MADD ac­tivists to ex­pand work lo­cally

Record Observer - - COMMUNITY - By DOUG BISHOP dbishop@kibay­times.com

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.

PHOTO BY DOUG BISHOP

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.

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