LAKE ARTHUR — Nearly a decade after Durry McZeal was killed by a drunken driver while leaving his class reunion, his mother is still coping with the loss of her only child.
“The Lord has brought me this far,” Winifred McZeal said of the pain she continues to suffer 10 years later. “Nov. 13, 1980, the Lord blessed me with something beautiful in my life, a son….Oct. 24, 2009, my life changed when my son Durry was taken away from me.”
Her only child, Durry McZeal, was fatally hit by a drunken driver as he and friends left their 10-year class reunion at the Lake Arthur Community Center on Eighth Street.
McZeal and thousands of other victims and survivors effected by drunken driving will be honored during the annual Walk Like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) fundraiser Sept. 14 at the Lake Charles Civic Center. The event is a day of remembrance and a day of advocacy against impaired driving.
McZeal, who was attending a women’s conference in Lafayette, learned of the accident when friends and family started calling her.
The driver hit McZeal and continued to his house a few blocks away. He was later arrested and sentenced to serve 12 years, with all but 8 years suspended for vehicular homicide. He is on probation and parole until 2022.
Jeff Davis Parish District Attorney Michael Cassidy said both families were adversely affected by a tragedy that could have been avoided.
“I am glad that MADD is highlighting various victims of impaired drivers and I hope everyone will recognize that even slight impairment can result in a similar tragedy,” Cassidy said. “I regret that the families of victims and the drivers involved have to go through their situation again, but both families in this case respectfully allowed the criminal justice system to work.
“Obviously, I wish we could undo the harm and bring Durry McZeal back, but that is impossible,” he continued. “So our goal is to make sure there is a proper consequence for the criminal conduct, and hope that the sentence will deter similar conduct from that defendant and others in the future. I continue to pray for all victims of impaired driving.”
McZeal said she had talked to her son just two hours before the accident.
“He’d told me, ‘Don’t worry Mama everything is alright. I won’t be out late because I have to go to work. You enjoy the women’s conference,” she said.
Two hours later she got a call saying Durry had been in an accident, but details were few. Other phone calls followed and things did not look good for her son.
“Durry was everything to me,” she said, holding back tears. “We fought, but I loved him and still love him. There’s a big hole in my heart that will never be filled. The Good Lord has bought me this far.”
Holidays are the worst, she said.
“I do a lot of cooking, then I go in the room and lay across the bed crying,” she said. “Everyone is there with their children and grandchildren and Durry is not there with me.”
Durry did leave her her only grandson, Breyon. Breyon, who was almost two when his father died, was denied the memories of knowing his father. Now at age 11, he remembers his father through what others tell him and through family photos.
“They keep telling me how funny he was and how he liked sports,” Breyon said.
Durry’s fiancee Lindsey Meyers Rudd said it has been a trying time for her since the accident. She has moved on, but says the pain still lingers. The two had been together for five years and had a son together.
“He (Durry) was my first love,” Rudd said. “He taught me a lot.”
Rudd learned of the accident from her friends who initially told her he had been in a fight and she needed to get there. She had last seen him earlier in the day.
“He brought me and Breyon back home,” she said. “When he left the last thing he said to me was I love you and he looked back at Breyon, who was sleeping in the back seat, and said he loved him and would see us later.”
When Rudd arrived at the scene, first responders were still trying to revive Durry.
“Someone said he died, but I didn’t believe it,” she said. “When his mother got here, everything came together.”
“If I didn’t have my son, I’d be with Durry now,” she said adding that for the longest time she felt guilty still being alive.
She’s moved on and gotten married, but still feels the loss.
A roadside cross marks where Durry was killed and serves as a testament to the heartache the family has endured.
“To pass this every day and see it is hard for me,” cousin Patsy Pete said. “I pray for Winifred and what she is going through.”
The family hopes the cross will preserve the memory of Durry who died too young and serve as a reminder to others not to drink and drive.
“Even if you have to walk home don’t get behind a wheel drinking,” McZeal says. “If you can’t make it, call someone…call the police…anybody…call me.”
Rudd urges others to think about how many other lives can be impacted getting behind a wheel drunk.
“Think of how many lives can be impacted,” she said. “With one bad decision one second can change so many people’s lives and you will have to live with that guilt.”
Durry’s aunt Loretta Washington said every day is a struggle for the family. She urges others not not drink and drive.
“You don’t realize the impact it will have on other families and loved ones,” Washington said.
Betty Etienne, Durry’s aunt who lost a daughter to cancer, said the emptiness is something the family will never get over, but said their faith will guide and heal them.
Aunt Jean McZeal said she finds comfort in knowing Durry is in good hands now.