As the end of the year rapidly approaches, we once again will find ourselves at holiday parties, nights of celebration at a friend’s house, or trips to destinations away from home. Please take the time to plan ahead when it comes to your social gatherings. One simple plan could save someone’s life. Designate a driver, or take a taxi home. This is a simple request from a man who has had everything taken from him. This is my story.
November 6th, 2008. In the days leading up to that one, I was a busy family man living and working in Illinois. With two kids, Ryan, 3 ½ years old, and Kaitlyn, 11 months, you can imagine that my life was anything but uneventful. I was married to a beautiful woman, Mandy, who I had met when we were just in high school. We had been married almost 8 years, and were looking forward to many more. I was working 2 jobs, and still found time for the family as well as being on the local volunteer fire department. I was so thankful for everything that I had.
I was sitting at home waiting for my wife to arrive back at the house, I had just talked to her on the phone and she said she would be home soon. They never arrived. Moments after that phone call, a drunk driver failed to stop at an intersection just as my family was proceeding with the right of way. The drunk driver collided with my family’s car going almost 70 mph. The impact pushed both cars off the road into an adjacent cornfield. Ryan and Kaitlyn were hit so hard that the impact ejected them out of their car seats, and they landed in the field. Mandy did not survive the impact and died instantly. The people who witnessed the collision stopped and called 911. They tried to revive the kids, but could not get a pulse.
On the fire department radio, I heard the call for the ambulance. I went to the scene, and I was a witness to the horror. I was at the hospital as the nurses and doctors tried desperately to save my 2 kids. But it was too late. Because of one person’s decision to drink and drive, that night I held Ryan and Kaitlyn’s lifeless hands in the emergency room. Because of one person’s choice, I kissed my wife on the forehead in a cold morgue. Because one person decided to drink and drive, later that week I watched as the 3 coffins were lowered into the ground as the rain trickled down. It was my worst nightmare, one that will always haunt me.
Almost 7 months later, the drunk driver received a 24 year sentence for a felony aggravated DUI conviction. It was her 3rd DUI. She threw her life away for a choice to drink, and then drive. At any time things could have been different. She could have made the right decision, and Mandy, Ryan and Kaitlyn would still be here today.
As the holidays approach, I ask you, I implore you to consider your actions before it’s too late. The sadness that I have carried for the last few years will never go away, but I carry on urging you that it is not too late. Your everyday choices can save a life. This Thanksgiving and Christmas season, I will look at the hustle and bustle surrounding me and hope that someone out there will go on living due to a responsible decision. The choice is up to you friends, please be that one person that saves a life. Somewhere out there is a family just trying to get home, a little girl clutching to her blanket, and a little boy wanting to grow up to be like his daddy. Please designate a driver, call a friend, or a taxi. Please don’t be the reason that someone has to go home to an empty house full of toys that will never get played with again.
Josh Jahn, MADD Los Angeles Volunteer