Some Kansas City area drivers this weekend will come face to face with the human cost of impaired driving.
Officers, deputies and troopers will coordinate two checkpoints in the Northland, operating simultaneously, in memory of Don Rippy, a 64-year-old Kansas City, North, resident who died in a 2014 accident caused by an impaired driver.
Some drivers will be able to see Rippy’s face on a poster as they leave.
“It’s a great honor for my late husband, and I want to keep his memory alive,” said Carol Rippy, who assented when Platte County prosecutors asked if they could dedicate the checkpoints in her husband’s memory. She will join organizers at a coordinating meeting before the late-night checkpoints begin and then attend one of them.
Area law enforcement agencies often conduct such checkpoints. But this is one of the few times, organizers said, that checkpoints have been conducted in the memory of a specific victim.
“It’s a lot more personal when you attach a family that has been impacted by an impaired driver,” added Sgt. Doug Hedrick of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
On Feb. 10, 2014, a GMC Yukon rear-ended a Chevrolet Malibu parked on the shoulder of Missouri 152 in Parkville.
Inside the Malibu were Don Rippy and his grandson. Rippy had been following his grandson’s car when the boy’s car overheated. Rippy and the grandson sat inside Rippy’s Malibu, emergency lights flashing, while waiting for the other car to cool.
After the wreck, emergency medical personnel took Rippy to North Kansas City Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Doctors also treated the grandson for minor injuries.
According to court records, an investigation revealed the Yukon had been traveling at 82 mph just before impact with the Malibu.
Highway Patrol troopers on the scene noted the driver appeared disoriented, and investigators obtained a search warrant to test his blood. An analysis showed the driver’s blood contained several substances found in legal prescription medications, among them alprazolam.
But the driver did not have a prescription for alprazolam, commonly known as Xanax.
In April, Anthony J. Battaglia, 30, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and possession of a controlled substance. In June, a Platte County circuit judge sentenced him to six years in prison.
This weekend, checkpoints are intended to remind drivers that being behind the wheel while misusing prescription drugs is just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol, organizers said.
“We spend a lot of time emphasizing the danger of driving under the influence of alcohol, but it is just as dangerous to drive while intoxicated by other substances, sometimes even including legal prescription drugs,” said Eric Zahnd, Platte County prosecuting attorney.
Platte County deputies will work with Highway Patrol troopers at one location, while Clay County deputies will coordinate with Kansas City police officers at the second.
“It will be pretty amazing in terms of lights, equipment and manpower, all to deter impaired driving,” Hedrick said.
Carol Rippy, meanwhile, wants Kansas City area drivers to know the following:
▪ Her late husband was not far away from retirement.
“He was going to retire on Jan. 5, 2015, his 65th birthday,” she said. “He had told his boss that on the day he died.”
▪ An employee of a Liberty packing manufacturer who reported to work at 3 a.m., Don Rippy looked forward to watching sunsets with his wife.
“For years, he worked 12 hours a day so that we would be OK in our retirement,” Carol Rippy said. “He had to be in bed before the sun went down.
“Now I go up to the cemetery every night to watch the sunset with him.”
▪ Rippy’s loss continues to take a toll on the family, which now includes three children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“We celebrate every holiday,” Carol Rippy said, “and every time we get together, everybody’s face is not the same.”
▪ Laws need to be upgraded, she said, so drivers cited for driving under the influence of prescription drugs face the same legal consequences as those ticketed for driving under the influence of alcohol.
“People need to understand we need tougher laws,” she said. “I don’t think my husband would want anybody to go through what I have gone through over the last 18 months.”