“This is our annual holiday campaign kick-off, reminding people to put their red ribbon magnets on their car, and some people still tie red ribbons to their antenna,” Leslie Watson, executive director, said. “Drunk driving is a complex problem with a simple solution: just designate a driver, and you can still participate in the holiday festivities.”
The mood at the luncheon was somber at the thought of the consequences of drunken drivers.
“There is always a price to pay for driving drunk,” said Jeanne Dark, president of the MADD East Texas Regional Advisory Council. “For some it is family and friends, for others it's a job, and for some it's the life of an innocent victim.”
Speakers emphasized how common it is for someone to be affected by a drunken driver. Emcee Bryan Houston, of 99.3 Talk FM radio, told the story of a friend who was running at 5:30 a.m. when she was hit head-on by a drunken driver, crushing her foot.
“Don't ever think there's a time, day or night, when it can't happen to you,” he said.
The organization also recognized several law enforcement departments in Smith County as their essential partners in the fight against drunken driving.
Michael Ferguson of the East Texas Police Academy was recognized as a powerful advocate with personal experience. Ferguson was on patrol when he was badly injured by a drunken driver. Seven surgeries later, he is educating officers about the very thing that changed his career.
“His passion for education and his personal experience make him a powerful ally in the fight against drunk driving,” Houston said.
The Pay Attention East Texas DWI Christmas Tree Project was recognized for their education efforts with the Christmas trees placed in schools. The lights on the trees represent people who were injured or killed in drunken driving accidents.
The MADD volunteer of the year award was given to Suzi Stein for her work with the organization as vice president of the MADD East Texas Regional Advisory Council.
“This award goes to the staff of MADD East Texas,” she said. “Thank you for letting me work with you.”
While reminding the attendees to drive safely over the holidays, members of the organization repeated their mission to stop drunken driving with law enforcement and legislation, offer free support to victims and prevent underage drinking through education.
“You can't work for this organization and not be impacted by the people you meet,” Ms. Watson said.