When a car flew onto a beach crowded with families, including hers, Heather Peterson was so scared about what could have happened that she wrote a letter to the driver and posted it to Facebook on Sunday night.
Now hundreds of people are sharing that letter that begins:
Dear Drunk Driver,
There is so much I want to say to you right now. I want you to hear my version, one from a sober mother.
Peterson, her husband and their 11-year-old twins spent Sunday afternoon on a private beach in a gated community in Hillsboro, Mo., south of St. Louis.
It was a perfect beach day. Sunny. Eighty-some degrees. Low humidity. The Petersons were there with other families from their daughter’s cheer team. The beach was packed with children and adults.
You scared an entire beach full of approx. 150 people because you chose to get in your car today and drive.
About 4:30 p.m. the cheer moms gathered to take a group photo before everyone left. Peterson had just handed her phone to her husband, Doug, to take a picture when she heard people screaming.
Then people started grabbing kids.
You plummeted down a hill in reverse and were so intoxicated that you didn't know the difference between the brake and the accelerator.
I want you to know that parents were scrambling to get their children. Parents were screaming ‘she's not stopping’ and it was complete mayhem. You caused that.
A woman turning her car around in a parking lot above the beach hit the accelerator when the car was in reverse. The car sped down a hill and got hung up on a concrete wall.
The woman hit the gas again, and the car flew off the wall, said Peterson, a 38-year-old online fitness coach who lives in Barnhart, Mo.
The sound was deafening as the bottom of the car scraped across the wall, the engine revved and the car landed with a thud on the sand.
Hung up on a picnic table, the car came to a rest about 10 feet from where Peterson and her family had their chairs and belongings on the beach.
Thankfully, your car attached itself to a picnic table, which slowed you down or you would have killed approx 30 children sitting in the sand making sand castles.
People ran to the car.
“When she first hit the sand, we really thought she was hurt,” Peterson said on Wednesday. “We were really concerned for her safety. We thought maybe the car had malfunctioned. So when it stopped, we all went running to her to make sure she was O.K.”
The driver was fine. But she appeared drunk, Peterson said.
You knew you were drunk and even said that you had 2 drinks and a shot before getting in your car. You were laughing when you said “at least no one got hurt.”
Watching the woman, Peterson felt sick. She found out later that the other moms were so scared they felt sick, too.
“When your emotions are running like that and you have all these kids around you and you know what could have happened, you want to vomit,” she said. “But we felt like we owed it to our children to keep our composure.”
The adults were more shaken up than the kids. “They just stood there in shock because they didn’t really understand,” Peterson said.
Someone called 911.
I stood there quietly and watched you drink endless bottles of water and eat an entire box of crackers while we waited for the police to arrive. What bothers me is that you seemed more worried about getting a DWI than wondering about the 75+ children that could have been injured or killed.
Two hours later, when no police had shown up, the Petersons left. Monday was the first day of school, and there was dinner to make and baths to take.
Tonight, I am thankful that I have children to bathe and to prepare for their big day ... An opportunity that you almost took from them ...
Still shook up later that night, Peterson sat down to write about what had happened. She knows who the driver is and didn’t set out to publicly shame her, she said.
“I was trying to find a positive way to share my point,” she said. “I was hoping that the next day whenever she had sobered up and had had a chance to reflect on what had happened, that she would read this, from a mother’s heart. That this is what actually happened and that she caused that, and that she caused all those feelings.
“That’s why I put so much feeling into my post because just saying, ‘Don’t drink and drive’ doesn’t have as much heart in it.”
The letter has prompted other Facebook users to reach out to her, some sharing stories of how they’ve lost family and friends to drunk drivers. The response has been overwhelming for her.
“It’s not just a society problem, it’s not just a St. Louis problem, it’s an everyone problem,” she said. “Everyone needs to think about not drinking and driving just a little bit more.”
Officials with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office told Fox 2 in St. Louis that the case is under investigation and that no charges have been recommended.