MADD activists to expand work locally
CENTREVILLE — You’re a parent. Your teenage child goes out for an evening with school friends. Late in the evening you receive a phone call that there’s been an accident. You are informed that your child is dead as the result of a driver who was intoxicated. The driver of the vehicle survived. In fact, the driver isn’t even injured. He walked away from the crash — not a scratch on him! Imagine how you would feel.
This is a story that happens too often, and still is happening all across the U.S. It can be said, this is a parent’s true nightmare. Though some progress has been made in the past 37 years since M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) was founded in 1980, regretfully, no real end to the tragedy is in sight.
Liquor stores in many places in Maryland are more plentiful than gas stations, or churches. Television commercials have in recent years promoted, “Drink responsibly. Don’t drink and drive! Use a designated driver.” The slogans appear to be only that — slogans, not taken to heart. State legislatures, though sympathetic, have been tediously slow to put “bite” in laws to punish those who have little regard for their own lives and certainly not the lives of others.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) remain major statistics in law enforcement.
For Jan Withers, who moved to the Eastern Shore community of Symphony Village in Centreville with her husband, Joe Sykes, losing a child to a drunk driver is an experience they would wish on no one. However, 25 years ago this past April, 16, during spring break from school, their daughter, Alisa Withers, 15, died as a result of a drunk driver.
A sophomore in high school, Alisa loved dancing — ballet was her life. She had performed in the famed “Nutcracker” with the Dance Theatre of Annapolis numerous times, even in the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
She was riding in a car driven by a senior male student from her high school; the driver later testified in court that he “only wanted to scare the girls” as he lost control of the car while doing 100 mph. The car skidded into a guard rail, ripping the car door off and ejecting Alisa from the vehicle. She was found in the woods along the road. Her injuries were too devastating for her to survive and she died soon after the crash.
“I was devastated,” Jan said. “Alisa’s death consumed me. I had to quit my job.”
Eventually, Jan became involved with M.A.D.D., in Maryland, a national organization founded in California. The name, M.A.D.D. does not express the emotion of the organization’s members, but is an expression of the desperation of the victims parents not to allow the tragedy to continue for others, she said.
In the years since, Jan and Joe have served in many positions in the state of Maryland with M.A.D.D., and most recently, Jan served as national president of M.A.D.D, from 2011-2015. Joe serves as chairperson of M.A.D.D. Maryland’s State Advisory Board, and also serves on the National M.A.D.D. Board of Directors.
Jan and Joe moved to Centreville in May 2016. “This is a wonderful place to live,” Jan said. “We’ve been very impressed with the community.”
Jan brings the M.A.D.D. message with her, and hopes to make its vision even more a part of the community here, to prevent such tragedies from as many families as possible.
M.A.D.D. official mission statement is as follows: “To end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support victims of these violent crimes, and prevent underage drinking.” The organization notes, “This is a preventable crime!”
Jan and Joe were both invited recently to speak at The Creamery Cafe in downtown Centreville that hosts the local QAC-TV monthly show. In March, it was a pre-St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Jan told the audience and television viewers, “We’re not against people drinking alcoholic beverages. However, before you start drinking, make a plan to get home safely. Don’t drink and drive!”
Both Jan and Joe have met with Queen Anne’s County Sheriff Gary Hofmann and States Attorney Lance Richardson. They said they are impressed with both law enforcement officials that they have a no tolerance for people convicted of DUI and DWI. That people convicted will receive the maximum sentences available.
S.A.D.D. (Students Against Destructive Decisions) is not directly related to M.A.D.D., however, both organizations promote stopping underage drinking.
The local members of M.A.D.D. who have lived on the Eastern Shore for many years are looking for volunteer assistance. Following convictions for drunk driving, many first-time offenders are ordered to attend victim panels where they hear directly from victims parents and relatives of those killed. These offenders hear how the deaths affected their loved ones. Withers and Sikes have both spoken at these panel presentations. Volunteers to help set up and register offenders who have been ordered to attend are needed. Each county on the Eastern Shore hosts the panels at locations within each county. If you’d like to become involved as a volunteer, call 410-964-5757.
Standing outside the historic Queen Anne’s County Courthouse in Centreville, from the left, Queen Anne’s County Sheriff Gary Hofmann, parents Joe Sikes and Jan Withers holding the picture of their daughter, Alisa, 15, who was killed by a drunk driver April 16, 1992, and Queen Anne’s County State’s Attorney Lance Richardson. Sykes and Withers are involved deeply with M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), as Hofmann and Richardson stand with them as local law enforcement officials to make area roadways safe for everyone.