Christmas Wreath

"Christmas shopping is a challenge for all victims’ families. All we can buy for our loved one is a wreath for their grave."

What do you do when a loved one was killed by a drunk driver and it’s Christmas - again? 

For people like me who had drunk drivers enter their lives, Christmas is the saddest time of the year. 

 It certainly doesn’t make me feel better. It makes me feel worse. We all are just going through the motions. Why can’t I be put in a medically-induced coma for the month of December and, then, wake up to a new year? I know it would be considered an escape from reality, but, why not?

Christmas shopping is a challenge for all victims’ families. All we can buy for our loved one is a wreath for their grave.  If this isn’t stressful, I don’t know what is. Try walking into a store and hearing “It’s gonna be a blue, blue Christmas without you” playing over the sound system and walking out with tears in your eyes. Victims can take only so much. We go through the motions of life, but we are not living it. Our loved ones’ lives were taken.  Our lives were left in ruins.

This year is going to be different. A man named Sandy Golden has re-entered my life.  He has searched for the drunk-driving solution for 40 years and now has found it. This makes all the difference in the world. People who have been affected by someone who chose to drink and drive can count their blessings now with the knowledge Sandy is working 24-7 for them. He understands the issue and it breaks his heart people die because someone chose to drink and drive.

It will be wonderful to have fewer new victims. Yes, Brenda, age 18 (my only child), and her best friend, Tracy Johnson (age 17), will not have died in vain because of Sandy’s efforts. I told Brenda before they closed her coffin her life was not wasted and, thanks to Sandy, I can keep this promise to her. Brenda and Tracy were murdered by a four-time repeat offender on August 1, 1987, as they drove home to Sierra Vista from Tucson, where they had gone to school clothes shopping.  

The offender had never been punished for any of his first four offenses. The State of Arizona continued to let him drive until he murdered on his fifth DUI. He served 21 years in prison. 

 He is out of prison now, has a driver’s license and a car. Think about this:  five DUIs, two deaths and he is driving on this nation’s roads. This does not make sense to me.

So what could I do? Where could I go? Most victims go to MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers). I did when we moved to San Antonio, but I was told they have too much paperwork to bother with victims. Later, I and four others spoke on a victim-impact panel which earned MADD $2,000 each month. However, when I asked MADD buy us iced tea and a sandwich after speaking, they said no. That’s when I quit. MADD basically teaches victims how to become their fundraisers.

Gov. Doug Ducey will not meet with Sandy Golden or me. The governor has a “Beer Week” in Arizona and a program called “Drink a Beer, Save a Deer.” Recently, an Arizona law was enacted which allows drinking in shopping malls. No wonder he is not interested in meeting with Sandy and me.

I did not think I would live this long without my child. Why have I? Is God sending me a message to help prevent other families from living the stressful way I have, seeing drunks on the news who have just killed someone and knowing the pain those families feel? It’s awful.  But, we see and know the truth: drunk driving hasn’t changed much.

It’s why this Christmas is different. Sandy Golden gave me the strength to help get rid of this horrible, violent and senseless crime. I have the strength to help others. Even though it is so black and white – you drink, you drive, you kill. 

I have done all I can to make the public aware of drunk driving. Republican State Sen. Jim Waring D-7 (who covers parts of Scottsdale, North Phoenix, Cave Creek and Carefree) and I did get the Interlock Ignition Device Law passed by the Arizona legislature.  Yes, it was stressful speaking to several committees of the legislature, but I had to in Brenda’s and Tracy’s memories. I had to remind myself I knew more than the legislators did about this crime. It also gave me strength.

Not long after Brenda and Tracy were killed, I met Sandy Golden for the first time and he took me and other victims to meet with then-President George H.W. Bush to ask him to declare drunk driving a “national crisis.” Which he did. But, 20 years later, I cleaned out my desk and found Sandy’s phone number.  

I called it, thinking it wouldn’t be good after two decades. However, Sandy answered. I barely got the words out of my mouth, but I asked him, “Are you still working on drunk driving?”  He said, “You bet I am.” He also remembered me, Brenda and Tracy.

Then, he told me about his website, concernedangels.org. He asked me to be on the team. Please, when you have a chance, look at the website. It will give you hope knowing Sandy has worked his heart out for 40 years to help you and me retain our sanity in the loss of a loved one because someone chose to drink and drive. Concerned Angels is a nonprofit organization not accepting donations and also does not participate in fundraising. You will learn a tremendous amount just reading their website.  

So, while a horrible drunk driving tragedy took my only child, Brenda, 32 years ago and ruined my life and since then countless other victims and their families’ lives were ruined, an unstoppable miracle is now unfolding in Sierra Vista, which will be a model for the nation. Because of one drunk driver and one angel, Sierra Vista holds the promise to control not only drunk driving but all other impaired driving in this country.   

The lives of all the citizens of this nation will be better protected. My child, Brenda, will not be just another statistic. What happened to her, Tracy and all other victims of drunk and impaired driving is a message from God we will no longer tolerate drinking and driving.