“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” – William Shakespeare. The quote dates back to 1600, but it is quite relevant today.
Today, we live in a weary world. Thank you all for being the light. I promise you; your good deeds change the world every day.
As Law Enforcement Officers, you know the grim statistics that illustrate the true crisis we are experiencing surrounding drunken and drugged driving in this country. While the numbers don’t lie, they don’t do justice to the calls you have worked, the sights you have seen, the hands you have held and the loss you have felt.
With as many 32 people becoming new impaired driving victims each day and now over 11,000, a 14% increase, losing their life to this preventable crime this year, it might be hard to believe that just one officer, or even one traffic stop, truly can make a difference… I can attest to that.
It is with great honor to virtually introduce myself. My name is Tess Rowland, and I am serving as the new National President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I am originally from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but I now reside in Houston, Texas. Like many victims, I never envisioned becoming part of the MADD Family, but the true reason I am here today is because of several hard-working law enforcement officers.
In May 2020, I graduated from Loyola University New Orleans with big dreams of becoming a news reporter. I achieved those dreams in the most beautiful of places and became a weekend anchor and reporter for WMBB News 13 in Panama City Beach, Florida. In March 2021, I was offered the opportunity to become the morning reporter which meant I would get weekends off, but I’d have an early wake up time of 2:00 a.m. I quickly accepted the offer knowing I would be off at noon and could spend time on the beach (a 22-year-olds dream) and that I would be avoiding heavy traffic. I woke up to head into work on May 4, 2021, thinking it was just another Tuesday morning. A month into the position, I called my mom the night before, telling her I was so happy I had switched to the morning shift and that I was, “The happiest I had been in my entire life.”
I was not even 5 minutes from my house when I encountered an alleged wrong-way, reckless drunk driver with drugs in the car. I was unconscious for much thereafter, but responders on scene told me my knee had been pulverized by the dashboard, and the engine of the car was just an inch away from my body.
My parents got the call that no parent ever wants to receive, and my mom drove nine hours to be by my side. By the time she got there, I had already had two emergency surgeries. Doctors initially attended to my knee as I had lost massive amounts of blood, and the gash was so deep it was almost as if the bottom portion of my leg was hanging by a thread. They then discovered I suffered complex fractures to my elbow, arm, and shoulder. My shoulder fracture was so severe, a total shoulder replacement was the recommended treatment, but being 22 years old at the time, the doctors wanted to try to rebuild it to avoid a joint replacement at a young age. So, 22 screws and 4 plates later, I came out of surgery number four. Doctors said my shoulder would never be anatomically correct. Even with the surgery, they were not able to tell me if I would gain true use of my arm, or how much range of motion I would have. A few days later when I could not hold down any food, the trauma team discovered internal injuries. Due to the impact of my crash, nearly every internal organ had adhesions, and a portion of my intestines had to be removed in what would be my fifth surgery in just nine days.
To date I have had 7 surgeries, I now have 4 large scars, and I now live with an uncertain future and the extreme probability of a total shoulder replacement in the future. One of the first texts in the hospital I received was from Lt. Jason King from Florida Highway Patrol Troop A. He knew my parents lived far, and he wasn’t sure if I was in the hospital alone… Many with injuries can attest, that the phone calls often stop when the wounds have healed, and months pass after an injury. Lt. King’s calls never did. He constantly checked in on how I was feeling and then the conversation changed. I told him I didn’t want this to happen to anyone else, and I needed to do something. We needed change.
Lt. King first put me in contact with a local towing company to whom I shared my story with. White’s Wreckers soon fell in love with my story and created a free tow home initiative in Panama City Beach. With a simple call, a drunk driver could have a ride home with their car, free of charge, 24/7.
Then, Lt. King connected me with our local Law Enforcement liaison to create more overtime enforcement opportunities. All this change, just a few months after my crash.
When I was well enough to return to work, Lt. King connected me with other members of Troop A, like Trooper Sue Barge and Lt. Daniel Wagner. Many TV viewers had shared with me their personal connection to DUI and how often it happens, so I suited up with my camera and hopped in a patrol car to see for myself. The results were shocking. Within minutes, we responded to a crash. One thing I found; it was many people in their 20s getting DUIs.
So that’s when Lt. King, Trooper Barge, Trooper Holland, and I started giving presentations at local schools in the area. Then, through connecting with Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford, we saw through the first ever area DUI Task Force comprised of 8 agencies. All of this incredible good, simply because one officer took the time. All of FHP Troop A lit that candle in a weary time for me and doing so changed the course of my life. For this, I am forever thankful.
I understand the many sacrifices and long hours that come with your profession, and the added frustration that the laws in place may not make your job easier. I am here to tell you, that despite those frustrations that you may encounter, please know that you are saving lives.
Law enforcement serves as our last line of defense and it’s because of you that many are able to get to where they need to go safely and return to their loved ones. Thank you for fighting the good fight by keeping drunk and drugged drivers off our roads and waterways. Thank you for being the light in many lives and the true reason many are able to make it home safely.