Madd Organizing In Payson

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Tammy Davidson did not know who to turn to when three members of her family were injured in a hit-and-run crash.

Davidson, her husband, aunt and uncle were crossing a street to go to the Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1, 2002. A woman driver, speeding away from police who were searching her vehicle for unlicensed merchandise, hit them, hesitated and then sped away. No one was killed, but the family is still coping with the aftermath.

The woman was later stopped and drugs were found in the vehicle, Davidson said.

"I didn't know the first thing of the court system, so I called MADD and it's helped me all the way through it," Davidson said.

Davidson was so impressed by the assistance available through Mothers Against Drunk Driving, she is working to organize a chapter for the Rim country.

Davidson, with the assistance of the state organization and Jan Blaser-Upchurch, the state chairman and national vice president of MADD Victim Issues, is just in the beginning stages of organizing the chapter.

The image of MADD as a group of angry people who are against drinking is a little intimidating, Blaser-Upchurch said. That is a misconception, she said. MADD is actually the largest victims' rights group in the country, with more than 600 chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Guam, she said.

"Our basic mission is to stop drunk driving, support victims and prevent underage drinking," Blaser-Upchurch said.

MADD was started in 1980 by two mothers, on opposite sides of the country. One had a 13-year-old killed by a drunk driver and the other had a 10-year-old made a quadriplegic by a drunk driver.

At that time there were no laws criminalizing drunk driving.

Those found guilty of drunk driving, paid their fines and went on with their lives, while the victimized families had their lives shattered.

Since 1980 more than 23,000 pieces of legislation have been enacted and in virtually every state drunk driving is a crime.

Blaser-Upchurch said it is estimated that the actions resulting from the efforts of members of MADD has saved 200,000 lives.

"In 1980, 28,000 people were killed by drunk drivers. The most recent statistics show only 17,000 were killed in a year," she said.

The group also trains victim advocates and monitors the courts to make sure judges and prosecutors know the penalties for drunk driving.

"We have good laws. We do court monitoring to make sure judges are doing their part," Blaser-Upchurch said.

Drunk driving is 100 percent preventable, she added.

Another part of the program is something called victim impact panels, Davidson said.

These are groups of people who have lost someone in a drunk driving crash. The courts in Phoenix, Tucson, Nogales, Florence and Prescott send first and second offenders to the panels. The panels are nonjudgmental, the members simply share their stories and tell about the aftermath of a crash.

Blaser-Upchurch said MADD is not against drinking by people of legal age, done either at home or with a designated driver away from home.

The membership of MADD is not just mothers or victims of drunk driving crashes and their families. Membership is open to everyone with a concern about drunk driving and its cost to society, not only in terms of lost and damaged lives, but in dollars and cents. Blaser-Upchurch said it is estimated drunk driving crashes cost $52 billion between lost wages, immediate and long-term health care.

Davidson said all it takes to form a chapter is to get a group of concerned citizens together who feel there is a need for more public awareness about drunk driving. It can take as few as five people doing one or two projects a year.

The projects can be in the area of public awareness and education, providing support to law enforcement officers working sobriety check points or just handing out literature.

Whether or not a MADD chapter is formed for the Rim country, the services it offers victims are always available. Those services can even be provided from another state.

Davidson said another woman in Payson, who lost her son to a drunk driving crash in another state, has a MADD advocate working for her in that other state.

Blaser-Upchurch is also victim of a drunk driving crash. She lost her husband, John, a sergeant with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, when he was killed by a drunk driver while investigating a drunk driving fatality Aug. 31, 1990. Another DPS officer was killed as well, David Gabrielli. The two are one of five DPS officers who have been killed by drivers who were either drunk or otherwise impaired.

The drunk driver who killed John Blaser and Gabrielli was sentenced to 21 years. The driver died after serving seven years in prison.

"It doesn't go away (for the victims), it's a lifetime sentence. This is a war. 17,000 people have been killed. We should be outraged," Blaser-Upchurch said.

For more information about MADD, call (800) 553-6233.

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