Realizing Value Of Penny After Tragic Death

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Amanda Brown's life ended at 21 when she was killed in a car accident in January of this year.

A drunken driver hit Amanda's car on I-17. Police said he was traveling at 75 mph with a blood alcohol content triple that of the legal limit.

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Twenty-year old Amanda Brown died in an alcohol-related accident earlier this year. Her aunt, Payson resident Nora Martin, is collecting pennies in honor of her memory.

Four passengers were in the car with Amanda. She and her roommate died. The two in the back seat lived. Autopsy reports concluded that Amanda was sober.

The accident had a profound effect on Payson resident Nora Martin, Amanda's aunt.

"I want to do something for my niece," she said. "I want to honor Amanda."

To honor the memory of Amanda, she's started the "Pennies from Heaven" fund-raising project.

JoAnne Brown, Amanda's mother, said her daughter collected and saved pennies.

"Nobody picks up pennies," Brown said. "You can't even buy anything with pennies."

Amanda found value in the much-overlooked coin. She told her family that one day, she'd amass enough and become a millionaire off her coin collection. Before she died, Amanda had collected $250.

"Everybody in the family now looks at the value of the penny," Martin said. "It really bothers me that people throw pennies to the side."

Young people and alcohol

In 2006, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that the age group between 20-29 had the highest rate of alcohol-related fatalities. Of the 1,150 traffic fatalities in 2004 in Arizona, nearly half were alcohol-related. Every 31 minutes, an American is killed in an alcohol-related accident, according to reports by the Centers for Disease Control.

Brown makes frequent trips to the cemetery where Amanda is buried. There, the ages carved on the headstones remind Brown of the statistics and the frailty of life. Young people, she said, are particularly vulnerable because of their lifestyle: Late nights, bar hopping and a feeling of invincibility.

"Young people are getting killed," Brown said. "You say it won't happen to me, but it does."

Amanda's accident happened around 12:30 at night. The foursome of girls had just eaten, and were headed home. As fate would have it, the driver and his wife were leaving a bar, too.

Brown didn't find out about the death of her daughter until early morning, and when the police knocked on her door, she knew something was wrong.

"They said my daughter was in an accident and passed," she said. "I just couldn't comprehend what happened."

The driver of the other car has not been convicted yet, but he's charged with two counts of manslaughter and three counts of assault -- his wife was injured in the accident.

For Brown, she's found solace in the support of MADD, and in her sister's advocacy. In a strange way, Amanda's death has brought the women closer.

"I was shocked when Nora (Martin) decided to do this," Brown said. "What she's doing is awesome."

Martin said she's placing canisters in businesses around town to collect pennies in memory of Amanda.

"She cared about everybody," Martin added.

The next time you see a penny on the ground, pick it up, donate it to MADD, and remember Amanda -- a life shortened by a drunken driver. Canisters are located at most of the businesses in the Swiss Village. If you're interested in participating in Pennies from Heaven, contact Martin at (928) 595-1911.

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