The holidays call for time with friends and family while enjoying food and drinks, but sometimes it can result in deadly drunk driving accidents.
“Drunk drivers changed and definitely destroyed our lives,” Speaker Peggy Caldwell-Heichel said.
Caldwell-Heichel lost her husband and three children in a drunk driving accident in 1990. One daughter survived.
She has children that weren’t in the vehicle, but the memory of her deceased family members remains on the DUI Victim’s Memorial – a moving memorial that displays the name of Pennsylvanians who were killed by alcohol or drug impaired drivers.
At Wellsboro Area High School Wednesday, Donna Miller, another mother who lost her son to drunk driving, used an empty chair while speaking to students and explained how she has to endure the pain of an empty seat during holiday dinners.
“When it’s a friend or a family member who has been drinking, and you know that they’ve been drinking, and you have the ability to hide their keys, take their keys away from them,” Miller said. “Do whatever you need to do to get them home from that party, that river lot, that picnic, whatever it is so that you won’t have any empty chairs at your table.”
Many of the students are just learning how to drive and agreed to not operate a vehicle while under the influence by signing their names on a pledge.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, over 1,200 impaired driving crashes took place in the state last year with 38 fatalities, and 41 percent of those deaths happened during the weekends of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve.
“Unlike cancer where you have to find a cure, there is no cure to be found,” Caldwell-Heichel said. “Just use your brain. If you drink, don’t drive, and you need to make that decision before you take that first drink because that first drink impairs you. If you make that decision before you go some place and you’ve got it set up so that you have a safe ride home, we won’t have to add anybody’s names here.”
The Pennsylvania DOT adds that four impaired driving crashes took place in Tioga County last year during the holiday weekends.