With a message that drunk driving can impact numerous lives, local officials Wednesday urged Henry County residents to make the choice not to drink and drive and keep roadways safe.
Henry County Safe Communities organized a Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over event Wednesday afternoon at the Henry County Fairgrounds, where Tante Lovins, a health educator at the Henry County Health Department, shared approximately 10,000 people in the United States die every year due to drunk driving crashes.
“It’s not an accident, it’s a choice,” Lovins said. “We have the power to come together as a community to change things, and I think we can all do that together.”
Lovins recognized local fire and rescue personnel who were in attendance at the event, adding they wanted to highlight the impact of these crashes on fire and rescue personnel.
“Thank you so much for what you do,” Lovins said.
Napoleon Fire Chief Clayton O’Brien said fire and rescue personnel arrive after the possibility of prevention has passed — after a vehicle has crashed.
“The time the fire and rescue departments get involved is when it’s too late,” O’Brien said. “We see individuals that are in a very, very bad place, and they could have been in a different place if it was prevented.
“That’s why I’m so passionate about the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over Campaign is this is something that we can prevent,” he continued. “If we put the message out there and try to show individuals how many lives they’re truly affecting, I think it makes a difference.”
O’Brien noted there are times at a crash where first responders do everything they possible can and everything went as well as it possibly could, but they are unable to save a victim.
“How can we change that?” he asked. “We can change that very easily — by talking about it. It’s about warning a friend or a family member of what the consequences really are because it’s not just with them.”
Henry County resident Teresa Bilow recounted her involvement in a crash when a drunk driver ran a stop sign at county roads D and 6 and struck her convertible June 15, 2002, killing one of her daughters and injuring the other. As she started to speak about the crash, passed around a framed photo of Cassie.
Bilow recalled waking up after the crash to realize both of her daughters, 8-year-old Cassie and 5-year-old Abby, were unresponsive in the back seat of the vehicle, which ended up in a field. Bilow said she looked around to realize two occupants of the other vehicle were laying in the field and there was no way for her to get help because she didn’t want to leave the girls.
“I was trying to wake them up and I see my daughter, Cassie, with the car wrapped around her,” Bilow said, adding Cassie was in the passenger side back seat and Abby was in the back seat on the driver’s side. Bilow, who had broken her leg, said she was trying to piece together what happened leading up to the crash while trying to get her daughters out of the vehicle.
“I was trying to give her CPR with my hand inside the mangled mess of my car because I could not get her out,” Bilow said, adding she started to hope Cassie was okay because the CPR caused with her chest rise as she tried to rouse Abby, who would occasionally open her eyes.
A car passing by called 9-1-1 about the crash and Bilow said she initially didn’t understand why, after first responders extricated Cassie from the vehicle, they placed her under a blanket.
“’You’re not listening to me — she’s alive, get help for her,’” Bilow said she told first responders.
Bilow was transported to Henry County Hospital, which is where she said it sunk in that Cassie had died, while Abby was transported by air ambulance to St. Vincent’s Mercy Medical Center with internal injuries but did recover.
Bilow noted the blood alcohol level of the other driver was .08 — the legal limit.
“That’s one or two beers, no big deal, right?” Bilow said. “She missed that stop sign and she hit me.
“That’s not, ‘I’m afraid the cops are going to get me because I drank too much,’” she continued. “This affected me and my family and my dreams.”
Bilow noted it was not just her immediate family that was impacted — it was Cassie’s school, 4-H club and softball team.
“One person made that choice to drive drunk, killed her friend, killed my daughter, my other daughter was fighting for her life and what now?” Bilow said. “If you have a friend, a relative, a son, daughter that chooses to drink and drive, go up to them ... and tell them, ‘No, you’re not just affecting your life, you’re affecting the lives of everyone around you.’”