Why Maria Hates Drunk Drivers

Names have been changed to protect anonymity.

drunk driving 1In Corvallis, stories of impaired drivers and arrests for driving under the influence are common. A quick glance at the jail rosters show lists of bookings for DUII violations, and anyone who’s gone out downtown at night knows that our local law enforcement carefully patrol to deter people from driving under the influence.

However, the issue with driving under the influence isn’t always about the drivers.

Yes, it’s awful when a high school kid crashes his car on prom night, or a man drives his car into the river. However, driving under the influence has far reaching consequences that include unintended victims, such as the families involved, and they can rock entire communities. Recently, the Texas case excusing a 16 year old of the unintentional murder of four victims while driving under the influence due to his “affluenza” has brought this back into the forefront of discussion, as we question when the affected families will have the justice they deserve.

Also, recently, with the incidents that have caused the life altering changes (the scope of which is still unknown) for Jessica Neffendorf and her family, the 2010 crash that turned Larry Ragsdale’s life upside down, and the 2004 crash that killed Robin Jensen, the community of Corvallis is left to consider when we’ve had enough.

Maria, a researcher at OHSU, speaks about the effect that impaired driving has had on her life. As a child growing up in the Mid-Valley, she was close friends with an 11 year old girl named Jenifer who lost her life in a crash on Highway 34. “Jenifer was killed in a drunk driving accident when she was 11 years old. Her father was driving drunk on the highway between Corvallis and Albany and hit a truck in late summer that was hauling corn to the cannery. She, her father, and her twin brothers who were 5 years old were all killed in the accident,” Maria said. She talked about the far-reaching effects of this loss on their family and community.

“Their funeral was the first funeral I had ever seen. They were survived by their mother who, after the loss of her whole family, became an addict… the experience profoundly impacted me and as such my whole life I have been very vocal about driving after having drank, and I shamelessly call people out on it when I see it. I tell them about Jenifer and her family.”

For Maria, the issue hits closer to home than the loss of her childhood friend. “My father is a serious alcoholic. He has had so many DUIIs that he can never have a license again. Before I was born, my father actually died in an accident he caused by his drunk driving. He was resuscitated on the table. He died and was brought back several times. He had broken literally almost every bone in his body. He spent six months in a body cast at Albany General Hospital and was one of the first people ever to wear a Halo Cast. Now, due to his injuries from that crash, my father is paralyzed on his left side and cannot turn his neck at all in either direction. He needs a walker to get around and can’t stand for more than a couple of minutes at a time.”

Maria explained that her father’s drinking and driving affected her throughout her entire life, causing her mother to have fear of being in vehicles for the rest of her life, “Many times as a child he forced me to get into the car with him after he had been drinking, including after my friend’s death. I was so terrified. Because of what had happened to Jenifer, I was always so afraid. Because we lived in the country, he never had an accident with another car, but a couple of times he did wreck our trucks on the side of the road and my step mom would come get us… then he got a couple more DUIIs and can no longer drive. The pain from his injuries and his continued alcoholism has left him disabled, bitter, and alone without relationships with his family, spouse, or children. Maybe my story can help to keep someone’s father from making a poor choice.”

As we approach one of the largest drinking holidays of the year, it is important that we all remember to plan ahead and prepare to hunker down for the night, have a designated driver, use public transportation, or call a cab. By imbibing and driving you risk not only losing your own life, but also taking the life and causing irreparable damage to the lives of others.

by Candy Smith