Bonnie Crutcher said she felt as though her daughter, Aimee, had died all over again.
The Scottsdale resident had done everything she could to describe to a room of convicted drunken drivers the devastation she and her family felt when 20-year-old Aimee was killed by a drunken driver six years ago.
Crutcher spoke about the phone call in the middle of the night. She showed the charred ring the funeral director gave her in an evidence bag. She shared a slide-show memorial of Aimee through the years.
She didn’t quite get the reaction she had hoped.
"I don’t think this has anything to do with stopping drinking and driving," said a twenty-something woman, who was court-ordered to attend the presentation as part of her drunken-driving conviction. "This is all about the money, and it makes me mad."
The woman, whose tirade lasted about 10 minutes, paid $30 to attend the victim impact panel.
About 500 people a month are ordered to attend one of five such panels in the Valley in an attempt by the state to stop drunken drivers from repeating their crime. Those attending the two-hour sessions are forced to listen to the tragic stories of people who have lost loved ones due to drunken driving. Law enforcement officers also talk about DUI laws and the consequences of driving under the influence.
At recent panels in Mesa and Scottsdale, reactions from those attending ranged from tears and heartfelt thanks to snide remarks and indifferent looks.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which first began sponsoring the panels 10 years ago in the Valley, offers some sobering statistics for justifying the panels: 17,419 people died in alcohol-related crashes in the United States last year, 477 of them in Arizona. Nationally, 41 percent of fatal crashes are alcoholrelated. In Arizona, that number is 43 percent.
The woman who resented the presentations by Crutcher and a Maricopa County sheriff’s sergeant said the money paid to attend would have been better spent shuttling inebriated people home from bars.
Crutcher simply sat quietly and listened, even after many in the crowd applauded the participant’s rant.
After the crowd received their certificates and left, Crutcher acknowledged she was deeply hurt.
Still, she’ll be back in front of a panel at Scottsdale Community College next month — heartened by the dozen or so people who shook her hand and thanked her on their way out.
"There have been times when I’ve been so overwhelmed by emotions — the same number of people are getting killed — that I’ve gotten discouraged, but then I get motivated again," Crutcher said. "I get motivated again because I know that the message does get through to some people and even if just one person’s life is saved, it’s worth it."
Tempe resident George Brennan was among 155 people who recently attended an impact panel at Mesa Community College. A talk by victim Marchelle Perry resonated with Brennan.
Perry, an east Mesa resident, lost her 16-year-old son, Robert, in a drunken-driving crash in June 1983. More than 20 years later, she still cries when telling "Bucko’s" story.
"Seeing her break down kind of made it hit home more," Brennan said. "As many times as she’s told the story, you could tell it’s still as hard as the first time."
The idea behind the panel is not to get people to stop drinking, said Jess Federico, MADD volunteer development coordinator. It’s to get people to stop drinking and driving — to persuade people to make arrangements to get home before they take that first drink.
At the recent panel at MCC, Federico asked how many of those attending were doing so voluntarily. No one raised a hand.
"All of you are here by choice, like it or not," Federico responded. "The day you decided to drink and get behind the wheel, you chose to be here. You are the lucky ones, and I hope you feel lucky. You could be in the hospital or in prison or in the morgue."
The $30 paid to attend the panel goes toward educational materials and public presentations aimed at preventing drunken driving.