Sheena Blair DUI

Moving Sheena's Spirit Forward

The talk

This is the time of year when young people will be going to proms. It is also the time of year that I fear watching the news or opening a newspaper. There seems to be a rash of kids who while either driving while impaired or riding in a car with someone who is impaired winds up dead or severely injured. Tragic loss of young lives really gets to us because it’s all so preventable.

 

So if you are the mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, big brother, big sister or the friend of one of these young revelers you HAVE to have “the talk” with them. You HAVE to state in clear, open and honest terms that IF they become impaired or find themselves with a driver who is impaired or at a party where their friends are impaired and they can’t get home safely that they can call YOU to pick them up.

 

This offer of help HAS to be unconditional, with no judgement or consequence. You will NOT yell at them about their choice of friends or that they might have experimented with alcohol or other stuff. Not only do they NOT get yelled at, you WILL thank them and praise them for calling you. YOU have to make it as easy as possible for THEM to make that call. They have to do this without hesitation or reservation.

 

It may be inconvenient, it may be a hassle to get up and get dressed to do this. It may be tempting to engage in a “tough love, tough talk” kind of attitude. As much trouble as a late night call like this might seem for you, imagine what a knock on the door from law enforcement is like. You only get one chance to save a kid’s life. PLEASE make it OK for a kid to get home safe.

The bill signing

The way this works is EVERYONE stands out in the hallway, usually a couple hundred people and a guy comes out a yells (the people in the hallway are VERY loud) the bill number being signed. Then the interested parties file into the lobby of the Governor’s office and then gathered up and escorted into the conference room and lined up around the Governor’s desk. Governor Inslee insisted that Carol stand beside him as he signed TWO new DUI bills into law. He also encouraged her to hold up Sheena’s poster so her spirit would be honored. He gave Carol TWO pens, one for each bill he signed. We then take them home and put them next to Sheena to honor her spirit. After all, this about HER, NOT us. Thank you Governor Inslee.

 

bill signing

And then there were five

pens

Today we went to the capitol to attend a DUI bill signing. We were there for SB6413. Governor Inslee insisted that Carol stand beside him and hold up Sheena’s poster as he signed the bill, he even gave us a mention. We were about to leave and he asked that we stay as he signed SB 6415, another bill regarding sentencing procedure for vehicular homicide. Again he wanted Carol to stand beside him as he signed that bill as well. He then shook our hands and thanked us for our efforts and promised that he would continue to work on this issue and hoped we would too. We did, we will.

 We always lay the pens the Governor gives to us where Sheena is. We do all things we do in her honor and to move her spirit forward. These pens represent five pieces of legislation we have been involved with. We want Sheena to be proud of us and know we are doing everything we can to stop DUI murder.

It was probably the damn frogs

Yesterday Carol went to Kmart to buy some baby aspirin and other sundries. The first thing she saw was a Seahawk display. Right in front were some frog bobbleheads dressed like Seahawks. The FIRST thing she thought was how cute they were and Sheena would LOVE those……….. Then the reality hit AGAIN. She didn’t sleep well last night.

We have been tracking a few DUI bills that aren’t going anywhere because of money and stupid petty politics. It is frustrating , maddening, disheartening and discouraging. I made a bunch of calls this morning because carol was PISSED. We were so optimistic last year when everyone worked together so well and they passed a BIG DUI bill. THIS year…….not so much. So there’s THAT.

We were asked to go out with the cops this Saturday night to visit bars and tell them to be more careful about sending drunken customers out into the night. I can’t TELL ya how many “Sheenas” we see in these bars. Carol is angry with the bar owners who listen, look sympathetic and then continue to send these potential killers out on our roads. She is angry at the Liquor Control Board because they don’t have a means of holding these bars accountable who continue to send dozens of drunk drivers out onto OUR roads year after year. She doesn’t trust herself to “keep her mouth shut” so she doesn’t want to go out this time. So I’ll go alone with the cops and the LCB agents.

We are fast approaching the four year mark since we lost Sheena and Tony. It’s NOT getting easier. We don’t miss her less, we don’t mourn her less, we don’t cry less and we still feel the empty hole in our hearts. We have the support and love of friends, family, strangers and communities. We would give it all back for one more hug.

So we are rapidly approaching another dark date. Monday we will drive up to Everett to see the memorial wall and the place where all this happened. We hope to visit those who helped keep us informed and guide us through the process. They supported us in ways that were SO above and beyond it’s hard to describe. There have been many positive relationships and amazing things that have heartened us and strengthened us. But the fact remains why we do all this stuff. Carol’s not doing well with all of this right now.It’s probably the damn frogs.

An unexpected look back

  We are approaching another February 26th which will mark four years since that awful night we were told that Sheena and her friend Tony were killed at the hands of a drunk driver. I watched the news and saw a man we met through a grief group at the sentencing hearing for the evil young man who raped and murdered his developmentally delayed daughter. It brought back a lot of feelings and emotions that have been put on the back burner as we struggle to move forward. I was jolted back to the courtrooms, the hearings and the knowledge that the offender was free for almost a year as WE entered the dark cell we can never be released from.

 We don’t spend a lot of our time and energy dwelling on those proceedings or the offender. We choose instead to move Sheena’s spirit forward and do our best to keep this awful thing from happening to others. Some people think of our efforts as remarkable or heroic. I don’t. What I don’t understand is how we could do anything else. I am the keeper of Sheena’s spirit and I take that responsibility very serious. We speak to anyone who will listen, court ordered or not. We have become policy wonks as it pertains to DUI policy. We stick our mugs in front of TV cameras. All to do what Sheena would be doing if I was the one slaughtered that awful night. I completely understand how people can just curl up in the fetal position and never move again. I fight it, Carol fights it. SO far we have managed to chase the dark gloom of depression and emotional paralysis away. MOST days. We do allow ourselves to feel what we feel and move on. BUT we don’t dwell on it. Grief is cyclic. Understanding that is key.

 The word “closure” comes up from time to time. We have heard that the service offers closure. The end of the legal proceedings offers closure. No it doesn’t. Closure is a myth, a word that those who aren’t affected by this kind of shock use to try to help us “feel better”. Bless them, they have our best interest at heart. We nod and thank them, then go back to dealing with what we have been handed as best we can. This has had effects on us that most people don’t know. It has hit us emotionally HARD. Financially HARD. I think it has hit Carol especially hard spiritually. I CAN say that this has bolstered me spiritually. From that day when we went to pick up Sheena’s ashes and I got an up-close visit from the Eagle, I have a closer relationship to my Deity than ever. We both truly believe that there are a flock of angels that hover over our family that seem to send exactly the right person at exactly the right time to do exactly the right thing.

 Sheena has been on my mind a LOT recently and Carol’s mind too. Amy has been thinking about her a lot. As always there have been bad days, sad days but there have been good days, productive days too. We won’t “get over” this. We don’t have “closure” but we have acceptance. We have friends, we have family. We have support, we have encouragement. But we don’t have Sheena. But we do have her spirit in our hearts. No matter what we lose, we won’t lose that.

Third Annual Sheena Blair DUI Prevention Summit

Today, Tacoma Trauma Trust hosted the 3rd Annual Sheena Blair DUI Prevention Summit. There were thirty REALLY smart people from State Representatives, Senators, Law Enforcement, a BUNCH of DUI Prosecutors, the Impaired driving program manager from the Wa Traffic Safety Commission, Pierce County Sheriff, several  Liquor Control officers INCLUDING the Chief of the Liquor Control Board a County Council member and a Representative from the Pierce County Executive’s office.

There were open, honest discussions among the various agencies, questions asked and answered. SOMETIMES procedures that may make sense to US, might be a time wasting burden to those in the field.  SOMETIMES a little tweek to a procedure might actually work better than a “legislative fix”. We finally talked about JAILS. Jails are a HUGE part of this process that are RARELY talked about in discussions in Olympia. Sheriff Pastor gave a VERY effective presentation about this issue and made it known that it COULD become an unintended pinch point AND an unfunded mandate without a fix SOON.

We purposely added 10-15 minute breaks every hour to allow these people to mingle and engage in side conversations. I stood on the periphery of some of those conversations and again, they were enlightening and informative. Former defense lawyer talking about defending a DUI to a County Sheriff and left the Deputy with a whole new perspective. Representative Goodman remarked that these breaks and opportunities were WONDERFUL, because in hearings and other meetings don’t allow for those kind of interactions.

This was a productive and beautiful day. We want to thank Val and Kim from Tacoma Trauma Trust for making this event happen. At the beginning and the end of this event I explained that our goal in doing these summits is two fold. First, of course, to do everything we can to STOP the outrage of DUI vehicular homicide. JUST as important to US is to move Sheena’s spirit forward. ALL of these really smart people helped us do that today. Thank you all SO much.

JBLM 10 October

We were asked to speak to a group of soldiers yesterday. I gotta tell ya when they call, we go no matter what. NOWHERE we go are we treated with such respect and appreciation. This time it was a field artillery unit (Air Assault) We were contacted yesterday. Short notice doesn’t matter we go.

I was contacted by the most professional, dignified officer I have met so far. She is a first Lieutenant who has a bachelor degree, her mother is an immigrant from Ghana in Africa who instilled the importance of education in her children and now her daughter is an officer in the US Army who will be promoted to the rank of Captain at her next duty assignment. AND she plays the cello. Wow, what an example of how people can actually pull themselves up by their humble bootstraps.

I talked with these troops for about 45 minutes. I pulled NO punches. I didn’t yell at them I told them they already had enough trained professionals doing that. I just shared our story. I told them what it’s like to get the knock on the door, what it’s like for a dad to have his daddy’s girl ripped from his life by someone who is doing the same thing some of THEM are. The bottom line is that every time they put the key in the car when they are impaired, they risk killing someone. Simple, serious, real.

It is an honor to be asked to speak to these brave soldiers. I hope we make a difference. I PRAY that we make a difference. This unit will be disbanded soon. The people I talked to today will be reassigned to bases all over the world. I hope they will take Sheena’s smile with them and share her story. I hope. Below is a picture of me with the CO, a Lieutenant Colonel and the Command Sargent Major.

command staff