Voices of Victims: Ryan Bielawa

Maryellen Bielawa of New York state shares her victim impact statement with us. She is the mother of Ryan Bielawa, a Coastal Carolina student killed by a drunk driver.

When Ryan chose to go to Coastal Carolina University it was not a surprise to me. I even encouraged him. Since he was not a fan of the cold weather, I knew he would enjoy the experience of going to school in the South. He loved going to the beach and being outdoors.

Not a day goes by that I don’t regret that I encouraged him to go away to school, and so far from home. If I could go back in time I would have made him stay closer to home. He would still be here with me if I had just worried about him more. He never did give me any reason to worry about him though. He was such a responsible kid and full of determination. He was kind, funny, upbeat, and just a great kid.

One of Ryan’s expressions was “never had a bad day”. And that was him. He loved to joke around, play tricks on his friends and just make those around him laugh and have a good time. He was always happy and smiling.

When Ryan walked into a room, he turned heads. He was 6 foot 5 inches and so very handsome. He had a presence about him, a confidence in himself. He was the kind of kid people just liked being around. From the time he was a little boy, his friends parents always told me Ryan was their first choice for their boys to have in their homes.

Ryan was in his second year at CCU when he was killed. He was on the President’s List his first semester and the Dean’s List his second semester. He had a love of the stock market and was determined to have a successful future in the finance industry. There is no doubt in my mind, or anyone that knew Ryan, that he would have achieved those goals and more.

He was working as an intern at Merrill Lynch when he was killed. He was only there for around two months. He was so well respected that they were planning to offer him a management position when he graduated from school. For them to be that impressed with him in such a short time of working for them demonstrates the kind of person he was.

On the one year anniversary of Ryan’s death, eight of his closest friends sent me letters describing how Ryan’s life and death affected them. The one thing that each of them mentioned was how he was a role model to them. He encouraged each of them to be the best they could be. They all looked up to him, considered him to be their best friend, and they respected him and aspired to be like him.

Losing Ryan has devastated my life and his brother Kevin’s life. It was always the three of us. We constantly talked about our futures together and all the plans we had. We faced many challenges together, but we always had a special bond. Anyone that knows us can tell you how very close I have always been to my boys. They looked out for me and I for them.

Over the past three years I have been exposed to how the legal system operates in South Carolina. The laws surrounding the case against the offender were very confusing to me. My life has been devastated by his actions. My son was a beautiful person with an amazing future ahead of him. I will never get to see my son graduate from college, have a successful career, or family; all of those things a parent gets to witness and be a part of as their children become adults. I am haunted by the loss of my son in every aspect of my life.

The impaired driver who killed Ryan requested a jury trial that had to be moved several times due to scheduling issues in the Solicitor’s Office. My son, Kevin, and I are in New York state, and it was very inconvenient to be placed on standby one week and then told they were pushing the trial back the next week. However, on June 5th, 2019, in Conway, SC, the offender was found guilty of Felony DUI with Death Resulting. He was given 20 years to serve in prison. Although it will never bring Ryan back, I do feel as if justice was finally served for Ryan.