10,000 lives lost. 10,000 families torn apart. In 2014, nearly 10,000 people lost their lives due to drinking and driving crashes, accounting for one-third of all U.S motor vehicle fatalities. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
One instant is all it took
It was May 11, 1996. She was 22 years old, working as a pre-school teacher and part-time model with the goal of becoming a cosmetologist.
Phaedra Marriott-Olsen was driving friends home from a concert in Missouri. A drunk driver, a high school principal, crossed the center line and collided with her car.
She spent more than five weeks on life support. Three of those weeks she was in a medically induced coma. Surgeons were able to save her life, but she ended up with paralysis and will spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.
“In the beginning I was in complete denial,” Phaedra recalled. “I thought I’d be able to get up and walk again.”
While still in the hospital, she started speaking with students about the dangers of drunk driving through an organization called “ThinkFirst Missouri!”
A year after the crash, she volunteered for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), helping to lower the DUI level in Missouri. Phaedra eventually became a MADD employee.
In 2012 Phaedra moved to Tennessee and joined the local MADD. Her assignment was to create an Underage Drinking Prevention Program.
She contacted schools asking for opportunities to speak. Students loved her humorous presentation and were intrigued by her story.
In 2014 alone, she and a small group of dedicated volunteers spoke to nearly 21,000 students – more than any other state in the country. That’s one student every 17 minutes.
She has endured 21 surgeries, but that hasn’t stopped her from what has become her life-mission. And for her extraordinary efforts, she was awarded the 2015 Micky Sadoff Award – Underage Drinking Prevention from MADD National.
“People say you’re so lucky you’re alive, but some days they don’t realize how hard it is” says Phaedra. “Hopefully I can help show people that drinking and driving crashes are 100 percent preventable and there would be fewer families that would know this pain.”
She’ll never forget that phone call
Gwen Edwards knows firsthand the devastating impact drunk driving can have on families. Her son, Louis Jarrod Edwards, was killed November 17, 2010, just eight days after he turned 22.
He was riding in a car in Dallas County, TX with a drunk driver whose blood alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit. The offender was sentenced to 180 days in county jail plus 10 years’ probation.
“No pain compares to the pain of losing a child. Every single day, you relive losing that child,” Gwen said.
Gwen has joined forces with MADD North Texas to share her story with the hope that by telling her story, no one will have to go through what she and her family has gone through.
She speaks to victim advocates, law enforcement officers, and others during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, attends candlelight vigils, and more. She forms Walk teams for 5K Walks in Dallas County and raises money to support MADD’s efforts.
“It’s important to me to be involved with MADD because I want to keep my son’s memory alive,” said Edwards. “This is a great way of bringing awareness to the issue of drunk driving.”
These crashes were 100% preventable
All drinking and driving crashes are 100% preventable. New Year’s Day is the most dangerous day of the year for drunk driving (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).
Remember Phaedra and Gwen and Louis and be safe this New Year’s Day and every day after.
Corporate Responsibility Analyst (AR, KY, TN)