Kristen Hohenwarter is not crusading against alcohol. She does not want people to stop drinking it, or bars to stop serving it. All she wants is for people to choose a designated driver if they are drinking.
It's a decision she would have welcomed a year ago - one that would have averted the loss of two lives and immeasurable emotional trauma.
Hohenwarter, 23, and her boyfriend, Ensign John R. Elliott, a recent Naval Academy graduate, were hit by a drunken driver in July. They were on their way to New Jersey for a birthday celebration for Elliott's mother when the drunken driver swerved across the double-yellow line and hit them head-on.
Elliott and the other driver both died. Hohenwarter was in a coma for a week. After an emotionally and physically draining 11-month recovery, she has joined a designated-driver campaign that has her late boyfriend as its focus.
Starting in Annapolis, she is working her way through the state, asking restaurants and bars to display posters with a picture of Elliott and the slogan, "Be a HERO - Be a Designated Driver." Participants agree to give out blue-and-gold ribbons and provide free soft drinks and coffee to designated drivers.
"It's an issue that people are aware of, but it's kind of put on a back burner," Hohenwarter said. "It's not addressed the way we'd like it to be addressed."
The HERO Campaign takes its name from the Human Education Resource Officer program at the Naval Academy, a character development program in which Elliott served as a peer counselor for four years.
Elliott's parents, William and Muriel Elliott, began the designated-driver campaign in their hometown of Egg Harbor Township, N.J. William Elliott said they wanted to attack the problem of drunken driving in a positive way, in keeping with the memory of their son.
"He was a giving person. He would be involved in a project like this," William Elliott said. "We went to the bars and asked if they'd be willing to put up a poster ... and they said, `Would we!' It pleasantly surprised me how enthusiastic they were - not just agreeable, but enthusiastic."
The Elliotts asked Hohenwarter to head up the Maryland effort. The response in Annapolis and elsewhere in the state has been gratifying, Hohenwarter said.
"It overwhelms me," she said. "I was very honored to be asked to do something like this."
The driver who hit Hohenwarter and Elliott, 37-year-old Michael Pangle of Woodstown, N.J., had been arrested the night before the crash and charged with drunken driving. At 0.21 percent, his blood-alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit.
But drunken driving is a motor vehicle violation in New Jersey - not a jailable offense - so police had to release Pangle a few hours later when a friend, Kenneth Powell of Pennsville, N.J., picked him up. According to police, Powell took Pangle back to his vehicle - the 1987 Chevrolet Blazer that Pangle later crashed into Elliott's vehicle. Powell will have a criminal trial this year for allegedly allowing Pangle to drive.
William and Muriel Elliott have succeeded in passing "John's Law" in New Jersey. The law, which takes effect Aug. 1, authorizes police to impound a car for up to 12 hours if the driver has been charged with drunken driving.
Hohenwarter shows few outward signs of her trauma, though she is struggling with its aftereffects. Her brain was bleeding in two places when she was taken to the hospital, and she endured months of physical, occupational and speech therapy. She has some memory loss, especially in thinking of words. If she stands for too long, her coordination fails her, and the right side of her body constantly feels like it is asleep.
"The first day Kristen stood up, maybe 16 days after the accident, it was like someone learning to walk," said her father, Don Hohenwarter.
Before the accident, she waited tables and bartended at Ruby Tuesday in Westminster, where she grew up, took classes for her teaching degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and played sports. She now lives in Randallstown and is working again, at the Ruby Tuesday in Greenbelt. But she has had to build up to her current four days a week, and her stamina isn't what it used to be.
"For a long time, I never thought I'd be able to physically feel like I was before," she said. "Physically, I feel like I'm 97 percent back to normal. I know what I have to do to get my stamina up, so I will work as hard as I can to get it up as high as it can go."
Though she launched the Maryland HERO Campaign at the Ruby Tuesday locations where she worked, she is now concentrating her efforts in Annapolis in honor of Elliott, because of the Naval Academy's location there.
Managers at Phillips seafood restaurant near the City Dock said they support the company's participation and will put up posters and offer free nonalcoholic drinks to designated drivers. "A soda or a juice isn't really that big of a cost to keep someone and their friends safe," said one manager, Jonathan McCaslin.
Even places that don't serve alcohol have endorsed Hohenwarter's efforts. At Juice It Up, a California-style smoothie bar in Annapolis, owner Mark Haugan said he would hang the poster in honor of Elliott and his family.
Hohenwarter, who will finish her teaching degree with a student internship in late August, said her participation in the HERO Campaign goes beyond personal recovery, be it physical or emotional.
"I've never felt this sadness before, and I hope nobody ever has to feel this way," she said. "That's one of the main reasons I got involved in this. I feel like I owe it to John to do that."
For information or to participate in the HERO Campaign, call toll-free 866-700-HERO.