ANNAPOLIS – The pain of losing a loved one to drunken driving never fades, but the families and friends of these victims are not alone, said a survivor at the Fifth Annual Maryland Remembers Memorial on Wednesday.
“You reach out where you can reach out because there is nothing that takes the pain away,” said Donna Hathaway Beck, who was severely injured in a crash caused by a drunken driver in 1983. Now a victim advocate with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Beck offers support to others who have been affected by alcohol-related accidents.
Maryland leaders are also reaching out. Gov. Martin O’Malley, law enforcement officials and safety advocates joined family members and friends of victims of impaired-driving car crashes to promote efforts to combat drunken driving in the state.
In a somber procession, victims’ relatives and friends carried Maryland flags and photographs of the deceased to the front of the crowd.
“It’s very comforting to have people remembering our loved ones,” said Jan Withers, mother of Alisa Joy Withers, who was killed by a drunken driver in 1992, when she was just 15. Withers and her husband, Joe Sikes, have attended the memorial event every year since its inception.
O’Malley asked Maryland residents to be responsible and not drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. He encouraged the use of Tipsy Taxi and SoberRide, two programs designed to provide safe, free transportation for people who do not have a designated driver.
“If you choose to drink, don’t drive,” O’Malley said. “If others do, stop them.”
In 2007, 29 percent of all Maryland traffic fatalities were due to drunken driving, according to Checkpoint Strikeforce, a law enforcement initiative to apprehend drunken drivers through the use of sobriety checkpoints. That figure is down from 2006, when 41 percent of traffic fatalities in the state were alcohol-related.
“To all of us, one life lost is one too many,” said Ocean City Police Chief Bernadette DiPino, who is president of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association.
As part of the effort to combat drunken driving, law enforcement agencies are strategically stationing sobriety checkpoints throughout the state, as well as Virginia and Washington, D.C., every week through the end of 2008.
“Statistics show between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is the most dangerous time on the road,” said Maryland State Police Cpl. Joseph K. Swann, who attended the event Wednesday. “You want to do your job as a trooper especially to a tee so you can try to convict these people who are breaking our laws.”
The Maryland Task Force to Combat Driving Under the Influence of Drugs and Alcohol, a committee designed to increase public awareness about reducing impaired driving, made 42 legislative recommendations, including harsher punishments for driving while impaired and tougher legislation to discourage underage drinking.
“Together we will make a difference,” DiPino said.