Saturday, September 11, 2010

The long term effects of drunk driving wrecks

'A new reality:' Effects of DUI wrecks long-lasting

September 11, 2010 7:01 AM

Angel McCurdy

Daily News

Every now and then, Roy Angerman will go into his daughter’s closet and look at the clothes and knickknacks stored there. He will study and read the notes, scribbles and dates written on the walls.

He remembers what his life was like before his daughter, Allison, was killed by a drunken driver on June 30, 2006.

She would have been 24 this year.

“I’m living in a new reality,” Angerman said. “My daughter, Ashley, just got married. Alli was supposed to be the maid of honor. She was supposed to pick out the wedding dress.”

The 20-year-old Fort Walton Beach woman was in her car at a stop light on Eglin Parkway when Sharon Martin hit her head-on while being chased by Okaloosa County sheriff’s deputies. Martin, whose blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit, was convicted in May 2007 of DUI manslaughter and eluding police. She was sentenced to 45 years in prison.

“It’s something you think will never happen, but it happened to me,” Angerman said. “The whole thing was surreal. It’s refocused my life. I now know what it feels like to lose a child.”

Stories like Allison’s are not uncommon.

Last year, there were more than 21,000 alcohol- or drug-related accidents in Florida, according to the Florida Crash Records database.

Driving drunk

A 45-year-old Navarre man, who asked not be named because of the stigma of driving drunk, could have been one of those statistics.

“I used to drink and drive a lot,” he said. “I was in the Navy and it seemed to be ingrained in the culture in the military. It’s just what we did.”

He recalled driving a friend home shortly after drinking a pitcher of white Russians. They got into his car and drove an hour to the beach just because they wanted to see it.

He left the beach, burning rubber and holding a six-pack of beer for the drive back. In a matter of minutes, he was pulled over by a Florida Highway Patrol trooper.

After convincing the trooper not to ticket him and promising to push his car to the side of the road, he and his friend went to a nearby bar and drank for several hours before he got back in the car to head home.

“You think, ‘I shouldn’t be doing this,’ ” he said. “But you’ve got to remember there’s that other guy on your shoulder saying, ‘I’ve got to get home.’ ”

When the man was in the Navy in his 20s, his feeling of invincibility behind the wheel was bolstered with each drink. He didn’t worry about getting a DUI, and neither did his friends.

“That’s the price you pay for a good time (and) that wasn’t a deterrent for me,” he said.

Drinks after work were a part of the culture.

“It’s just what you did,” he said. “You worked hard and you played hard.”

In those days, he didn’t make enough money to afford a taxi and no one wanted to be the designated driver, so they all drank and they all drove.

He didn’t stop drinking and driving until he came across an article about drunken driving when he was 27.

“It wasn’t a special day,” he said. “And it wasn’t the idea of how much it would (monetarily) cost me, but the idea of the lives I could alter with doing what I was doing. … (That) ultimately made me stop.”

Patrolling the streets

Okaloosa County Deputy Harold Mason can still hear the screams of a 21-year-old man who was crushed between the driver’s seat and the dashboard of his car after he wrecked while driving drunk. The young man died from his injuries.

It was one of the first DUI cases Mason handled after starting to work solely on driving crimes four years ago.

“Everyone thinks they won’t get caught, they won’t cause a wreck,” said Mason, a nine-year law enforcement veteran. “They think it won’t happen to them. I always hear, ‘I thought I knew my limit.’ ”

In his years of patrolling the north county, Mason has issued more than 300 drunken driving tickets.

In 2009, more than 1,300 DUI citations were issued in Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties, according to the Florida Crash Records database.

The consequences of driving drunk come with hefty fines and court appearances. Those convicted could be sentenced to four to 15 years in jail for DUI alone, Mason said.

“It’s a mess,” he said. “What’s scary is it can happen to anybody. It knows no one type of person. We’re all humans, we all make mistakes. But this mistake could cost someone their life.”

Todd Rosenbaum with Mothers Against Drunk Driving said the consequences of a DUI can be just as detrimental to the accused as to the victims of DUI-related wrecks.

“I’ve seen cases where individuals are in prison for 15, 20 years,” Rosenbaum said. “Take a 20-year sentence and if they have a 5- or 7-year-old child, you’ve ended up killing someone and ruining your life.

“The risk is far greater than you realize,” he added. “Folks lose their careers, sometimes family connections. It’s devastating.”

Living with loss

Although her life ended four years ago, Allison Angerman’s pictures and some of her favorite things still hang in her father’s house.

A charm with a photo of the beautiful blonde-haired girl hung from her sister’s wedding bouquet in March of this year. A shirt Allison bought her father after she was accepted at the University of Florida sits folded at the bottom of a dresser drawer. Pictures documenting her life hang throughout the home.

At Sharon Martin’s sentencing, Allison’s mother, Cathy Mills, tearfully told the judge she wanted the sentence to send a “strong message.”

After Martin was sentenced to 15 years for DUI manslaughter and 30 years for eluding police, Mills said she was happy that Martin wouldn’t be able to hurt anybody else.

“My No. 1 objective: I don’t want anybody else to suffer the pain of losing a loved one,” she said. “She was the most significant person in my life. We talked daily, even when she was in college.

“I needed that child in my life,” she said, crying. “Nothing can replace the bond that I felt with her.”

Allison still is a part of her family’s lives.

“Alli’s everywhere,” Angerman said as he flipped through his 2010 calendar showing photos of Allison on her birthday, in the last family photos she was able to be a part of before the wreck. There also is a photo or her smiling on her “Heaven day,” the day she died.

Since Allison’s death, Angerman has shared his story at schools and other organizations that deal with DUI prevention.

“Allison keeps me busy,” he said with watery eyes. “I now have the drive to do this so, hopefully, someone else won’t have to go through what I’ve gone through.”

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