Parents' crusade for a daughter lost Tribute: Parents share the story of their daughter's death in their fight for tougher laws against drunken driving.

March 09, 1998|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

Ashley Elizabeth Frazier was a little girl who loved rocks and the color purple, cooking shows and doing makeovers with her sister. She had the dreams of a 9-year-old, until an alcohol-impaired driver ended them one winter morning in Westminster.

As her horrified mother watched, Ashley was struck and fatally injured by a car while she waited outside her house for a school bus.

In the two years since her death, Ashley has become a symbol in the national fight to lower the blood-alcohol level at which a driver is considered drunk.

At the White House and on Capitol Hill last week, Ashley figured prominently in debate on the lower threshold. Her mother spoke about it Tuesday at a news conference with President Clinton. A U.S. senator referred to Ashley during floor debate Wednesday, while a large photo of the smiling girl was propped on an easel nearby.

Ashley was killed by a 20-year-old woman with a blood-alcohol level estimated at 0.08, which Maryland law considers to be "under the influence" but not "intoxicated." The penalties for intoxicated drivers are harsher. Like most states, drivers in Maryland must reach a level of 0.10 to be considered drunk. Fifteen states, including Virginia, have a 0.08 threshold.

"There is no one that will ever convince me that 0.08 is not serious impairment," Ashley's mother, Brenda Frazier, said at the White House last week. "My eyes have seen it, my ears have heard it, and for the rest of my life, proof will remain etched in my mind."

'Emotionally draining'

She spoke in a steady voice, in a room full of cameras and reporters and officials. To those who know her, the moment was remarkable.

There was a time when she was too shy to address a Brownie troop. Neither she nor husband, Randy, used to be involved in causes.

"I was never able to talk in front of a group before, but I can now when it's about Ashley," said Frazier, 39, a slender, soft-spoken brunette. "There's a strength that just comes over me. God is at my side, and Ashley is in my heart and on my shoulder," she said. "It's for the love of Ashley."

Brenda Barnes, executive director of Maryland's Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter, said the Fraziers are effective speakers.

"Their tragedy seems to have all the elements that elicit not only sympathetic responses in people, but also a sense of outrage," she said.

The Fraziers said they share the story of Ashley's life and death -- though it can be "emotionally draining" -- to fulfill a promise they made. They agreed to fight, in Ashley's memory, for tougher drunken driving laws, better enforcement and mandatory sentencing.

They want people to know that anyone can fall victim to a drunken driver, anytime, anywhere, and that drunken driving is a crime, not an accident.

They didn't always think about such things.

Safe, open spaces

In 1992, they moved from Catonsville, where both had lived for many years, to a more rural area on the outskirts of Westminster. They settled in a two-story house on a winding road near farms and open spaces, believing their two daughters would be safer there.

"We were worried about growing crime in our old neighborhood," Frazier said.

But their worries did not include fears of drunken drivers. "Like a lot of people, I thought it always happened to someone else," she said.

Their notion of safety and crime was sharply redefined on Dec. 22, 1995. It was the last day of school before the Christmas holiday.

A snowman built by Ashley and sister, Stephanie, then 13, stood in their snow-covered yard. It was 28 degrees. To stay warm, Ashley and her mother sat in the car at the end of their driveway while they waited for the school bus. Ashley was wearing a purple coat and carrying a red school bag with gifts for classmates at Spring Garden Elementary School.

When she saw the bus, Ashley got out and went to the edge of the driveway. In an instant, a Toyota struck the girl, in front of her mother's eyes.

"I will never forget the sound at the time of impact," her mother said. "People told me my screams were heard for miles."

It was 8: 20 in the morning.

Ashley was flown to Johns Hopkins Pediatric Trauma Center in Baltimore, where her parents were told she was brain dead. She died that day.

'Purple angel'

When they came home from the hospital, they found a wooden cross on their lawn marking the spot where Ashley had fallen. Ashley's schoolmates had placed it there.

Ashley had been well-liked. The night before she died, she attended a Brownie Christmas party and received a stuffed animal as a gift. Another girl really wanted that animal, so Ashley gave it to her.

"That was Ashley. She would give of herself in any way to make someone else happy," said Randy Frazier, a stocky man and Air Force veteran, who struggles for composure when he talks about his daughter.

Frazier, 43, restructured his schedule at his job at a Beltsville engineering firm so he doesn't have to pass her school bus on the street.

After Ashley's death, the family felt victimized by the criminal justice system, he said.

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