Charlottesville, Va.,
01:00 AM

Taking a Stand

Family injured in drunk driving crash helps change Virginia law.

A crash on a country road in Virginia could have been the end of life as they knew it.

Instead, it was the beginning of a campaign to protect victims of drunk driving crashes.

In November 2017, Amanda Petrylak, a State Farm® employee in the Charlottesville, Va., Operations Center, was headed home with her 8-year-old daughter, Claire.

Driving down the road that leads to their subdivision, she watched as the truck in front of her swerved to the right.

Before she could react, a car coming toward her in the wrong lane slammed into her car head on.

Amanda had multiple injuries, and Claire spent 10 weeks in a head and neck brace that restricted mobility.

Ironically, the decision not to insert a rod and fuse the breaks in her daughter’s neck changed the charge for the intoxicated driver who hit them from a felony to a misdemeanor.

“We learned the way the law was written has not kept up with medical advances,” Amanda says. “In Virginia, in order for a DUI accident to be a felony, the victim has to suffer permanent damage.”

Today Amanda and Claire have healed physically.

“Claire is doing the stuff she loved to do before,” her mom says. “But sometimes things that remind her of the crash trigger her emotions.”

Amanda and her husband, John, have struggled, too. Working with their local delegate, they attended hours upon hours of hearings, petitioning for the law to be changed so a victim of a crash caused by an intoxicated driver does not have to suffer permanent damage for the charge to be a felony.

They testified before the House of Delegates’ Courts of Justice subcommittee, Senate Courts of Justice Full Committee and the Senate Finance committee.

Their efforts paid off. On Feb. 23, the Virginia General Assembly passed HB1941, making it a felony to drive drunk and seriously injure an innocent person.

“We’re still in shock, but so happy this is now a reality,” Amanda says. “Our goal was to keep other victims from going through what we’re experiencing. We are so thankful to the General Assembly for listening to us and helping protect other victims of drunk drivers.”