FORT WASHINGTON — In an effort to raise awareness about safe driving throughout Prince George’s County, State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy hosted a kickoff event for her Drive Focused, Sober & Safe campaign on April 27 which included student performances, survivor stories, a panel discussion and more.
“Law enforcement and public safety is not just the responsibility of elected or appointed individuals,” Braveboy said to the crowd at the Southern Regional Technology and Recreation Complex. “It’s really all of our responsibility, and we cannot do this without you.”
The event opened with a presentation by students from the Community Public Awareness Council (CPAC) who said that 1.3 million people die in car accidents each year while 50 million people are injured or disabled.
Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teens, and 1.6 million car crashes are a result of texting and driving. Braveboy added later that there have been 40 fatal car crashes in Prince George’s County alone over the past seven months.
“The more people that get educated, the more they can educate more people,” said Mary Wisniewski who attended the event. “It’s kind of like a domino effect. People can start following others and become more aware.”
The two-hour event included speeches from County Council Chair Todd Turner and Police Chief Hank Stawinski followed by videos about safe driving, and poems entitled “Collateral Damage” and “Think Sober” read by high school student Taylor Dickerson 2019 Youth Poet Laureate Project MC. Several survivors also told their stories.
“When I was asked to come out to speak on focused, sober and safe driving, I couldn’t wait to get here because I have lost friends behind car accidents,” said Ms. Wheelchair Maryland Wanda Hawkins-Barber who told her story as a survivor of a car accident. “I made it, but the impact is still real.”
In 2004, she was run off the road by a drunk driver as she was coming home from work. The driver kept going and was never found, and Hawkins-Barber was the one who suffered from the accident as she suffered a spinal cord injury which caused her to be in a nursing home for three and a half years.
“It just takes a second, just a second, to take someone’s life or injure someone’s life,” she said. “The impact that it gave me was devastating because I for one enjoy walking, dancing, going places that this wheelchair cannot go.”
Latasha Ward also told the story of how she received calls on two separate occasions about loved ones who had been involved in horrific car crashes. Her mother was in a bad accident on Indian Head Highway in 2012, and her god daughter’s father was hit head-on by a drunk driver on Walker Mill Road. Her mother survived the crash; her god daughter’s father did not.
Devon Smith shared the story of how he was actually the drunk driver who killed another driver when he was a rising senior at North Carolina State University. One night he had driven to the nearby Chapel Hill University to hang out with friends and thought he was sober enough to drive back to his school to make it work the next day. Things turned out much different than he had planned.
“I knew at that moment that everything in my life was going to be different,” Smith said. “Everything I had been spending that year planning for was null and void.”
The victim died a week later. Smith served two years in prison and then had to reapply multiple times before he could finish school, but the most impactful consequence was that the victim would not be able to live out the rest of his life because of him.
“I share my story not to glamorize the situation, not to glorify it by any means,” he said. “There were a number of consequences but the one that’s most impactful and the one I deal with the most to this day is having to live with the fact that there are two young children that don’t have a father and there is a young mother who has to live without her husband.”
The panel discussion, moderated by Channel 9’s Mikea Turner, consisted of insurance agent Nicole Edwards, Personal Injury Attorney William McCaskill, Mary Anne Scottino, Assistant State’s Attorney Franklin Shelton, Mothers Against Drunk Driving Member Robin Stimson and PGPD Officer Frank Carson.
They answered questions regarding the role of someone in their position when a car crash occurs, what people can do to reduce accidents and the penalties for impaired driving. They also answered questions from the audience such as how to stop repeat offenders from getting on the road, whether there can be sobriety checkpoints at Washington Redskins tailgates and how programs can be formed to educate high school students about safe driving.
“It was very educational,” Laurel resident DeLisa Hawkes said about the event. “It was nice to hear the stories of survivors. It made the issue of driving under the influence more real.”
Braveboy said she was impressed by the massive turnout of the event and that it shows that the community is focused and paying attention to the issues around them.
“We have a responsibility to our fellow man and woman, to each other, to do our part to prevent accidents and save lives.”