Paying twice for driving drunk Woman injured in 1986 crash banned from MADD vigil

December 11, 1998|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

The spastic arm, the shattered knee and the slurred speech are permanent, the work of a drunken driver. Look at me, Judy Kressig says, and understand why no one should drink and drive.

It's a message she has delivered dozens of times throughout Maryland, and she was to deliver it at the International Candlelight Vigil for victims of drunken driving this weekend in Memphis, Tenn. But the national staff of Mothers Against Drunk Driving has banned her from the program, which has frustrated Kressig and surprised officials of MADD's Maryland chapter.

Judy Kressig calls herself a "victim" of drunken driving, and she was a unanimous choice to represent MADD's Maryland chapter at the vigil. She also was the drunken driver who caused her own injuries a dozen years ago.

That is the problem, says MADD's national leadership, which fears that an "offender" would upset some people who are grieving for loved ones killed by drunken drivers.

Stephanie Frogge, MADD'S national director of victim services, said there is a role in the organization for Kressig and other remorseful offenders. But the Memphis vigil, which is designed to offer a "healing setting" for victims, is not the place, she said.

"She made the decision to drink and drive, and, unfortunately, she paid the price," Frogge said. "There are going to be 82 state representatives at this year's candlelight vigil, and what happened to them or their loved ones came about from no decision-making of their own. To put those two different circumstances on the same stage would be really hurtful to those victims."

Kressig said the decision, relayed to her less than two weeks before the event, "was a cold slap in the face." She said she would bring an important perspective to the vigil.

"I've been a victim and an offender long enough to say, 'Been there, done that,' " the 37-year-old Carroll County woman said. "I could understand it if my crash had happened two months ago or even two years ago. That would be different. But 12 years?

"It's their loss. It's too bad for both of us."

Long ago, MADD leaders in Maryland and officials at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center came to respect Kressig for her willingness to own up to her mistake and for her eagerness to discourage others from drinking and driving.

In October, representatives from Maryland's eight MADD chapters selected Kressig from among a half-dozen candidates to be one of the state's two representatives at the national gathering in Memphis. It never dawned on them that her presence at the vigil might offend some.

"It backfired on us," said David Elzey, victim advocate for the state MADD chapter. "I knew her past, but it did not come up to even think to not vote for her.

The decision to exclude Kressig from the vigil illustrates the sensitivity anti-drunken driving activists must use while pressing their cause.

"You have to tread so softly with victims because you just never know what you're walking into," Elzey said. "You just never know where a person is in their grieving. A little thing can set off a victim and be an emotional setback. You wouldn't have intended it that way, but it's such an emotional issue."

Brenda Barnes, director of MADD's Maryland chapter, said, "I just wish it never had happened, because no one intended to cause Judy hurt. Unfortunately, she is hurt from this."

MADD officials said Kressig earned the recognition by traveling the state to share her story.

"It's a shame she can't go, because she's done so much and worked so hard for the group," said Shirley Johnson, a Towson woman whose 25-year-old son was killed by a drunken driver 19 years ago and who will represent Maryland at the vigil.

Tuesday night, Kressig told her story again at a senior day center outside Westminster. She drove from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she studies English, to speak to more than 30 drunken-driving offenders who had been ordered by courts to attend a "victim impact panel."

Her mother, Pat Kressig, handled the introduction. "I am the victim of a drunk driver," she said, "and so is my daughter."

With that, Judy Kressig moved uneasily to the front of the room, favoring her right leg as she walked. She joked about her hand, which she cannot control. She tucked it into her pocket.

Her voice is a rasp. Her words come out slurred. "I'll never be regular again," she tells her audience. "My brain will never heal."

She said she was injured in a car crash. Then she signals that she was the drunken driver who caused her injuries by adding: "I'm no dummy, never have been. But I was very stupid on Sept. 1, 1986."

By the time of her crash, she had been arrested twice on drunken-driving charges. On that day, she was at a bar. "We literally drank our brunch," she said. She ended up behind the wheel on Gillis Falls Road in Mount Airy.

She crashed into a fence post. She was not wearing a seat belt. She was thrown through the windshield. She was in a coma for six months.

Her words are leavened with humor. She talks about the challenges she faces in finding romance. Pleading with her audience to refrain from drinking and driving, she asks, "Do I have to keep you here until 1:55, when the bars close?"

Without going into details, she refers to the dispute surrounding the candlelight vigil. It is a reminder that driving drunk is an act that will always follow her.

"I laugh about it now, but I cried like a baby the other day when they called me and told me I couldn't come because I was an offender," she said. "They didn't look at all I've done. They looked at the fact that I was a drunk driver."

Pub Date: 12/11/98

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