Last Modified: Saturday, October 27, 2012 7:40 PM
The community gathered to sober up against the dangers of drunken driving in the Walk Like MADD charity 3K on Saturday at Prien Lake Park.
The event — the first charity walk of its kind in Louisiana to be organized by volunteer members — raised money to fund the efforts of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“My goal is to keep drunk drivers off of our roads,” said Barbara Dartez, event organizer. “That’s why I do this. It is my passion.”
Dartez decided to take action against drunken drivers when her grandson, Ryan Vezinot, 24, was hit by a drunken driver while crossing the street at an LSU game on Oct. 20, 2007.
He died as a result of his injuries eight months later, though his memory was kept alive by family and friends, who wore his picture pinned to their sleeves as they walked the perimeter of the park.
“This has been a really emotional time for me, as we’ve just reached the five-year anniversary of when my son was hit by a drunk driver, but I’ve been looking forward to this event,” said Julie Vezinot, Ryan’s mother.
“It really drives home that when a drunk driver hits a victim there’s a city of people who are affected. Ryan’s family and friends lived through this nightmare for eight months.”
Many other survivors of the drunken-driving victims attended the event to share their stories and feel the support of the group. One such survivor wore a T-shirt printed with the photos of four family members who were killed by a drunken driver in Florida in 2010.
“My family was on vacation to introduce my husband’s family to our new son when my husband, his two brothers, and father went out for a guy’s night and a drunk driver ran a red light and killed all four of them instantly,” said Sandie McConnell.
“The driver was drunk, high and underage, and now I’m raising our child by myself and my mother-in-law lost all three of her children and her husband. You think it’s never going to happen to you, but it does.”
Dartez said her goal for the event was to raise at least $6,000 — a number that was surpassed during late registration at the event. A representative from the Baton Rogue chapter of MADD said the money will go toward educating children on the dangers of drinking.
“We just want to teach people that it’s not about getting people to stop drinking. It’s about getting people to make better decisions,” said Valerie Cox, MADD volunteer service coordinator for special events.
“If people made better decisions, some of these people out here today would still have their loved ones. If you know you’re going out and are going to drink, have a designated driver in place, call a taxi, do anything but get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.”