By Halley Harrell
Families, friends and volunteers gathered last weekend in remembrance of loved ones killed by drunk driving crashes.
The Central Texas Mothers Against Drunk Driving organization hosted its third annual Walk Like MADD 5K on Oct. 12, and over 150 people signed up to walk in memory of those lost. The event was held at Confederate Park in Belton, and the atmosphere was one of hope.
Central Texas MADD victim advocate Reita Hill welcomed families and volunteers to the event. After 28 years of working in various state and local positions, she found her passion in working with families who have lost loved ones to accidents caused by drunk driving. Each year MADD hosts an event to raise awareness and fundraise.
The Walk Like MADD trail was lined with 116 white crosses in memory of victims who were killed in 2012 by drunk driving incidents in the Central Texas area. The event also included a silent auction, cake walk, and concert.
As teams arrived at the park for the 5K, a medical evacuation helicopter arrived and landed in the parking lot. The three-person crew for the PHI Air Medical chopper greeted families at the event.
EMT flight paramedic Bobby Steele has flown for 20 years and enjoys meeting people and answering questions about the job. The medevac unit has ties with MADD through carrying victims of drunk driving to hospitals across the state.
“We see it quite a bit out in the field, unfortunately, so that’s our indirect involvement with the organization,” Steele said.
Sandy Tokes, RN for the medevac crew, said she originally planned to fly for a few years, but her time with the team caused her to stay on longer.
“I thought maybe I’d do it five years or so, but I tell you what, it just gets into your soul,” she said. “I just can’t give it up. I love it.”
After the helicopter’s arrival, local band Fireside kicked off the event. The band donated their time in remembrance of frontman Tim Easter’s wife Shelly, who died in an incident involving an alleged drunk driver.
After the opening song, Hill welcomed the walkers and guests to the event before introducing MADD’s special guest, Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza.
“Next is my very favorite district attorney. Because he does prosecute drunk drivers, and he does get the most that he can get on a case,” she said.
Garza spoke at the opening ceremony before participating in the 5K.
“I’m now in my 30th year as a prosecutor in Bell County, 13th year as district attorney in Bell County,” he said. “We guide, we help, we assist people that come through the criminal justice system.”
Garza emphasized the importance of community involvement and stepping up to the plate to prevent future tragedies.
“You can’t do what we do by yourself … We are now in fellowship and in community for one purpose today, this morning, and that is do what we can to step out in this community,” he said. “Right now we are one voice to say, if you’re drinking, don’t drive. And if you do, you’re going to see me.”
Karah Ricketts, coordinator of volunteer resources for Central Texas MADD, welcomed the teams entered to walk. She also recognized the volunteers. Fort Hood’s 4/5 battalion hosted the Kid Zone featuring a bounce house and face painting. They also planned the route for the 5K and set up the white crosses along the trail.
The Bell County Probation Department and a group from Killeen called the Misfits were also present, supporting MADD by setting up the grounds and preparing food for all the participants.
The group from Fort Hood brought their Avenger and demonstrated it throughout the event, as well as providing water at the halfway point with their Water Buffalo.
The teams set off at 10:00 a.m. and walked the 5K through Yettie Polk Park. The first walker returned at 10:27 a.m.
As the families and friends completed the walk, they gathered to embrace and grieve their loved ones. Though the victims will never be replaced, their families were proud to gather with MADD to take a stand against drunk driving. They hope to prevent future tragedies by sharing their stories and raising awareness of the risks of driving while intoxicated.
MADD offers support programs to help victims cope with their tragedy and loss of a loved one in the Central Texas area at no charge. The organization provides legal support and actively works with state and local legislators to crack down on drunk driving. MADD also provides educational programs to teach students the risks of consuming alcohol.
For more information on MADD, visit http://www.madd.org/