Drunk driving kills, leaves painful memories

(published in CM Life’s Oct. 16, 2009 edition.)

Thursday was just another ordinary Thursday for the average CMU student.

For some, it consisted of finalizing plans for a trip to Kalamazoo for the Central-Western football rivalry. For others, it marked the beginning of another weekend in Mount Pleasant. Or it was just another day in college, filled with classes and a part-time job.

For me, however, this day was my 24th birthday. But something more important was lingering in the back of my head Thursday, just as it has the past eight years.

Nine years ago, I was a nervous freshman at Heritage High School in Saginaw, attending my first-ever Homecoming dance. I left the dance and simply went home.

The next series of events changed my life forever.

Around 2:30 a.m. of Oct. 15, 2000, just hours after the Homecoming dance had come to a close, a good friend of mine, 14-year-old Heather Mayes, and a friend was getting picked up with by her sister, 20-year-old Shannon Mayes, to return home from an after-Homecoming party.

During the short drive and just minutes away from their home, the vehicle Shannon was driving was struck by a drunk driver traveling more than double the road’s 30 MPH speed limit.

Heather and Shannon did not survive the accident.

As college students who are approaching — or have surpassed — the legal drinking age, we are constantly bombarded with the “don’t drink and drive” slogan. Although I have eclipsed that plateau by three years now, the reminders are still there, but becoming few and far between.

I am reminded at least once a year on my birthday when I think of those two I’ve lost.

Let this be one more warning.

Drinking and driving is a serious matter. Next time you’re at O’Kelly’s, the Bird or the Blackstone and you’ve been drinking, remember this story. Drinking and driving can severely injure or even kill yourself or others.

Whether you think you know your limits or how sternly you proclaim to your friends that you’re okay to drive, for the sake of everyone who knows you, take the safe route. Call a taxi or have a sober friend drive you home.

By all means necessary, don’t drive.

I’m not using this space to preach that drinking is wrong. We are all entitled to do what we please. But given the reputation that CMU students drink often and drink heavily, it leaves some to wonder how they make their way home. There is no doubt some choose to drive.

This shouldn’t be the choice that is made.

Every year, I no longer celebrate Oct. 15 as the day I was brought into this world. It has become the day I celebrate the life of a good friend of mine and her older sister who were taken from us nine years ago — far too many years, far too soon.

Don’t let tomorrow — or any day – be the day your friends and family celebrate your life that was cut too short by alcohol.

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