Family channels grief into positive energy

Essex couple who lost a son will raise funds for drunken-driving victims

October 12, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

In an Annapolis courtroom today, Frank J. and Pat Buchacz will learn the punishment of a man convicted in the crash that killed their son last year.

Two weeks from now, the Essex couple will hold a benefit bull-and-oyster-roast fund-raiser in their son's memory.

"No matter what happens at the sentencing, it will not replace the life of my son," said Frank J. Buchacz, whose son Francis David "Tweeter" Buchacz, 26, was killed in a crash in Glen Burnie July 9 last year while heading home from a car club meeting. The couple say they are holding the fund-raiser "to support the people who supported us."

The event, to be held Oct. 24 at the Richlin Ballroom in Edgewood, will benefit two groups: Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Families of Homicide and Drunk Driving Victims Support Group of the Baltimore County state's attorney's office.

The fund-raiser is part of a small but growing movement by grieving families willing to undertake the extensive planning needed for a memorial benefit.

Such efforts offer families something constructive to do after a loss by helping an organization that provides services to others, said Maureen Gillmer, longtime victim advocacy coordinator for the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office.

"It's also therapeutic for families to do something like that," she said. "It may help to assuage the pain of the loss."

Ann Leyendecker of Crofton, whose son, Don Meadows, was killed by a drunken driver in a 2002 crash six days before his wedding, said a golf tournament set up in his honor has brought in more than $10,000 a year in its three years. Most proceeds have gone to funds for brain injury treatment at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where Meadows was treated. "It gives our family a way to give back," said Leyendecker.

She said the effort also has been "good emotionally" for the victim's brother and extended family, which includes 11 cousins.

Frank J. Buchacz said the benefit will help the couple channel their grief over the death of their son, the eldest of their three grown children. Also, he said, "we can help others who are freshly hurt."

Among those expected to attend are members of the New Edge Cougar Owners, the car club their son met with the night he died.

Frank J. Buchacz described his son as an average teenager, a graduate of Chesapeake High School who became a thoughtful adult. He worked full time in sales for a heating and air-conditioning company in Baltimore and took business courses at Baltimore County Community College.

He fished. He crabbed. He water-skied.

"He loved the water," his father said. In warm weather, he was a lifeguard, most recently at the Chesapeake Yacht Center in Middle River, and earned the nickname "Tweeter" for the whistle he blew while on duty.

The night of the crash, police said, Buchacz was speeding east in his black Mercury Cougar on Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie shortly after midnight. Tests pointed to a small amount of alcohol in his system, below level of impairment.

The car left a 66-foot skid mark before colliding with a sport utility vehicle driven by Jamel Reid, 25, which was turning left onto southbound Route 10 at about 15 mph.

Reid had a blood-alcohol level of 0.07 percent, which meant he was legally impaired, and tests indicated that he had smoked marijuana in the hours before the crash, police said.

He was convicted in July in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court of negligent homicide, which is punishable by up to three years in prison, although prosecutors are expected to seek less.

"If they were to take his life for a life, we would end up with a world with two lives missing. That would not be a solution," Frank J. Buchacz said last week. "I hope Jamel learns something from this. I hope he turns his life around."

The couple is focusing their energy on the fund-raiser. Much of the organizing was done by Pat Buchacz, a party planner for the Richlin Ballroom, which accommodates 400 people.

For both of its beneficiaries, the fund-raiser is a new experience.

"This is a first. It's new ground for me," said Peggy Basham, director of the Victim/Witness Assistance Unit of the Baltimore County state's attorney's office.

She said she was "overwhelmed" when the couple told her their plan. The support group receives occasional small donations and volunteer help, most of which go to a newsletter and remembrance notes, she said.

Nancy Kelly, volunteer public policy liaison for MADD in the state, said donations to her organization typically go toward the group's literature and public awareness efforts.

"To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time a person has done this sort of thing" for the chapter, she said.

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