April 7, 1997, is a night I will never forget. The night played out in slow motion and every moment is seared into my brain forever. I got the call at 9:07 pm. My sister calls to tell me that Mom just called her. Dean, our step Dad, has been in a four car accident.
“I’m not sure how he is, but, it was bad. He is at Froedert, meet us there.”
I woke up my 2 1/2 year old son and shakily got him ready to go. I fought back tears, while I sped towards the freeway on ramp. A ten minute drive was delayed by construction and through tears I screamed at the cars around me to get out of my way. Unfortunately, my tantrums disturbed my son and he also began to wail. In a strange way it was comforting. Forty five minutes later I quickly slammed the car into park and ran into the ER waiting room.
I was amazed to find the entire family already present along with our Pastor and some church friends. As we waited for word from beyond the double doors the story of Dean’s night began to unfold.
My Dad was on his way to a funeral driving down HWY 32 in Muskego, WI. HWY 32 at that time was a two lane undivided highway. He must have saw the oncoming car swerving, because he pulled to the shoulder of the road as far as he could manuver his truck without rolling into the ditch. The two cars behind him followed suit. Within moments all three stationary cars were in the ditch. Dean’s truck had taken the brundt of the damage. His truck was hit at an estimated 70 miles an hour head on into the front quarter panel. Even though Dean was wearing his seat belt he was thrown from the truck when the latch was demolished upon impact.
“Is everyone alright?” that’s what Dean kept asking as the passengers of the two cars behind him came to his aid. That shows you what kind of a person he was, as he laying dying on the side of the road, his concern was not for himself. He continued to repeat his question as those aiding him reassured him that help was on the way.
The police arrived just moments after the accident. A driver behind the swerving car had called 911 and reported the erratic driver. The police were already positioning to intercept the reported driver when the calls started coming in that there had been an accident.
Back in the waiting room we are encouraged that Dean was still alive when transported and thankful that the elderly couple in the car directly behind Dean’s in the accident had made the effort to come to the ER and share their story and their concern for Dean with us.
Within minutes of my arrival the double doors opened and an unsmiling face approached our large group. “I’m sorry, Dean did not survive. Dean is available for anyone who would like to see him.” The family all began to gather around Dean’s body, but the moment I saw him my stomach wretched and I ran for the bathroom. A kind nurse followed me into the bathroom and made sure I was ok while I could swear I was puking up everything I had every eaten in my 22 years. I did managed to make it back to the ER room and spent a few minutes with the family before they gently reminded us that they would need to move his body soon.
My husband was out of town and I did not want to spend the night alone so I slept on my sisters couch. I am sure we all hoped we would wake up to find that the night before had been a dream. The next few days are a blur, I vaguely remember sitting next to my Mom at the funeral home while plans were made to lay Dean to rest and being interviewed by a few TV stations that had picked up the story. I don’t remember the moment that I learned that the crash was caused by a drunk driver or when I learned the drunk drivers name.
Jimmy Lee Kennedy that is the name of the man that changed my life. During the court hearings over the next few months I just wanted to scream at Jimmy Lee Kennedy. WHY? Why would you jeopardize your life? Didn’t you think about your daughters? Do you really feel remorseful?
Jimmy Lee Kennedy, a repeat drunk driver, you changed our lives forever. You changed YOUR life forever.
Drunk driving, why is drunk driving even an issue? We have cabs, buses, designated driver programs, but most of all we have common sense. Don’t we? Here is a societal problem that is 100% preventable! One hundred percent people, if you drink, don’t drive. It is as easy as that. Just don’t do it.
This year, 2007, will be the tenth “anniversary” of Dean’s death. Ten years, have come and gone. Dean’s grandchildren are now 16, 12, 11, and 9. Yes, nine, just weeks after the murder my sister found out she was pregnant. For Dean’s anniversary I just want one thing, no drunk driving. I want to wake up into a world where no one would even think about drinking and driving. A world where friends don’t let friends drive drunk, where bartenders and bouncers take responsibility for the condition of their customers who are walking out their doors with keys in hand.
Do you think if I close my eyes tight and click my heals three times my wish will come true? Maybe, it’s not that easy, but it can happen and it starts with you…