A Sister’s Heartache Lights a Passion to Fight
By: Ashley Bonus
I started my journey with MADD in 2012 when my sister, Stacy Gammons-Ankerfelt, was killed by a impaired driver. I hope one day I can be half the woman my sister was, she was one in a million, not just because she was my big sister but because she truly was changing the world with every life she touched. Stacy was the epitome of happiness. She spread love and kindness wherever she went. My mother always described Stacy as her “miracle baby” and said she showed how gifted she was early on in life.
Over the years she received a Presidential award at 10 for placing fourth in the country in an academic contest, Odyssey of the Mind. She graduated at the head of her 2002 Auburn Riverside High School class with honors and graduated from the University of Washington as the single student on the Dean’s list all four years.
Stacy married her high school sweetheart, Jason in 2007 and couldn’t wait to start the family they had always dreamed of. She was a huge football fan and never missed a Seahawks game. Stacy was 28 years old, had just finished her master’s degree in teaching and her first year at her new school Scenic Hill Elementary.
Teaching was her true passion, she put her whole heart and soul into it. One of the many benefits of teaching was having summer’s off but Stacy used her free time to take homemade sack lunches to all her low-income students because she couldn’t let them go hungry. She always said you become a teacher not for the income but for the outcome. She was so humble and never needed any recognition for all the good things she did. She found happiness in seeing her students succeed. Stacy had a lot of plans for the future and that was all gone in an instant. One selfish and 100% preventable act changed our lives forever.
On July 19, 2012, Stacy was heading out to get school supplies for the upcoming year when she was struck right outside her home by an SUV and thrown more than 30 feet. The driver was under the influence of a prescription drug called suboxone, which was taken to treat withdrawal symptoms of an oxycodone addiction. This man was in his early twenties and already a repeat offender for driving under the influence. After suffering multiple fractures and a traumatic brain injury she was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, WA. After countless surgeries she passed away exactly one month later. I had been through a lot of hardships, loss and sadness over the years but up until that point I had never felt a pain so intense in my chest, I actually felt my heart break. I couldn’t even imagine the pain my parents were feeling. I went home that night and explained to my boys, who were three and six at the time, that Auntie Stacy was never coming home.
Not long after that we started our journey for justice and it was not easy. After months of delays, Stacy’s case was one of the first to be tried under the new law at the time in King County and he was sentenced to 102 months in jail. Of course, no time is equivalent to all we lost but at least we knew he would be prosecuted to the max penalty. It was hard for our family day after day to sit in a courtroom looking at this man who selfishly took Stacy from us, a man who showed no remorse. I was filled with anger and grief, but I tried to think like Stacy. She had always believed in the goodness in people; she didn’t have a single ounce of negativity in her body. She would want him to use this lesson to better himself. Unfortunately, he didn’t. He only had to serve five years of his sentence and has since re-offended.
My heartache lit a passion in me to fight. I believe there is no such thing as an accident when it comes to driving under the influence and I’ve made it my mission to make a change for Stacy. I know our story is not easy for people to hear but it needs to be told. The numbers continue to rise and these aren’t just statistics, they are people. I refuse to let my sister be just another sad headline. Nobody talks about the ripple effect left behind by a loss so great, none of us were ever the same. Every milestone in life since has been somewhat shadowed by grief. I catch myself daydreaming about the life we could’ve had.