Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Speaking on the Victim Impact Panel

Last evening, Tuesday, 01/26/10, I talked on the GCASA Victim Impact Panel over at the Batavia City Centre. Sarah, talked on the panel with me about the death of her daugher Lindsey who was killed in Rochester when Lindsey was in her early 20s.

There were about 30 people in the room.

The Victim Impact Panel has met monthly in Batavia for the last 20 years. It serves people from Orleans, Genesee, and Wyoming Counties.

Kathy Seymour spoke on the panel for 17 years every month about the death of her only child, Paul Seymour, killed when he was in his mid-20s back in the late 80s. Kathy, is dead now too. She died about one year ago. Her last year of service on the panel she spoke with her oxygen tank and nasal tubes piping oxygen to her lungs.

As I spoke last night, I wondered whether these panels make a difference? My kids, Ryan aged 8 and Brigid aged 5 were killed in 1993, 16 years ago. If they had lived Brigid would be 22 and Ryan 24.

In 1993, the year that Brigid and Ryan were killed there were 13,739 DWI fatalities in the United States. In 2008, there were 11,773. In the 16 years since Brigid and Ryan were killed, there have been 200,000 DWI fatalities in the United States.

How many people were killed on 9/11? 2,973. Since 9/11 over 100,000 Americans have died from drunk drivers.

As an American, terrorists are not likely to kill you, but a drunk driver is much more likely to kill you. You don't have to be afraid of terrorists as your government tells you. You should be afraid of drunk drivers.

The City of Batavia has about 16,000 people in it. Approximately the whole city of Batavia is killed every year in DWI crashes. The population of Genesee County is about 60,000 people and Orleans County is about 40,000 to equal 100,000 people. Over 112,000 people have been killed in DWI fatalities since 9/11. That's the whole population of Genesee and Orleans counties.

What has been our national response to this carnage? Has Homeland Security protected you from drunk drivers? Have the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan protected you from drunk drivers. No my friends. The enemy isn't out there, the enemy is us and we kill each other in huge numbers. Terrorists didn't kill my kids, it was a drunk driver from Lockport. Terrorists didn't kill Sarah's daughter, Lindsey, it was a drunk driver in Rochester.

So, I asked myself, before I spoke on the panel, dredging up all the pain and turmoil of grief of loosing my two children (something a person never gets over) does this victim impact panel activity make a difference?

I look at the data and I notice that drunk driving fatalities have dropped 44% from 1982 to 2008 from 21,113 per year to 11,773 per year.

Since the population of the United States is larger in 2008 than it was in 1982, the actual number might not be the best comparison. So if you look at the DWI fatality rate per 100,000 of population the rate has fallen from 9.1/100,000 in 1982 to 3.9/100,000 in 2008 a drop of 57%. Yeah!

Utah and New York tie for the lowest DWI fatality rates in the United States at 1.7/100,000. Last year New York State had 340 DWI fatalities while Texas had 1,269.

I take comfort in knowing that Brigid and Ryan and Lindsey did not die in vain because their parents are willing to tell their stories on Victim Impact Panels to raise offender's consciences.

Panel speakers are not paid. It is a labor of love and conviction.

Yes, it has made a big difference. It is less likely that you and your loved ones will be killed today because of the volunteer victims who have devoted countless hours sharing their stories of pain, suffering and grief.

As much as it is hard to speak, even after 16 years, I will follow Kathy Seymour's example and continue to tell Brigid and Ryan's stories. I don't want to think that they died in vain.

No comments: