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Remembering a terrified 12-year-old: MADD laments lives lost, cherishes lives saved

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) gathers to remember drunk-driving victims

Mothers Against Drunk Driving gather in Kansas City's Theis Park Saturday to remember the victims of drunk driving crashes.
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Mothers Against Drunk Driving gather in Kansas City's Theis Park Saturday to remember the victims of drunk driving crashes.

The 12-year-old girl who survived being in the car with a drunken driver was squeezing the Bible in her hands so hard, her hands shook when the officer saw her.

At Saturday’s Mothers Against Drunk Driving rally — Walk like MADD — Kansas City, Kan., police officer Dustin Dierenfeldt remembered the terrified girl.

Many of the people who gathered for the rally and run/walk at Kansas City’s Theis Park came with pictures of people they loved who had died.

But they are also optimistic about the increasing awareness of the dangers of driving while intoxicated, and the stiffer laws that have likely saved lives.

Dierenfeldt was patrolling on Interstate 635, northbound just past State Avenue, when he saw a weaving car, the driver unable to stay in the lanes.

He stopped the car knowing the driver needed to be saved, as well as any motorist or bystander who might have crossed his path. It turned out the driver was a father who had his daughter in the car. And she had been “praying on that Bible, she was so scared.”

He thought about her, he said, as he prepared to open Saturday’s ceremony by singing the national anthem.

Azeneth Rodriguez wasn’t as blessed as the 12-year-old, who escaped harm.

She got into a car with a drunken driver on Oct. 26, 2014. No one stopped that driver, who collided with another vehicle on the Heart of America Bridge. Rodriguez was killed at the scene.

The driver was Rodriguez’s boyfriend, said her sister, Ashley Rodriguez.

“She thought she could stop him,” said Ashley Rodriguez, who said her sister was hopeful that she could stop him from driving recklessly after he left a bar. “She thought she could save his life and someone else’s life.”

Ashley Rodriguez came to walk with other friends and family and remember her sister.

MADD supporters know how many die — 308 in Missouri and Kansas alone in 2014, and 10,265 nationwide in 2015, a rate of 28 people killed every day.

They can only guess how many lives the Mothers Against Drunk Driving crusade has saved since 1980, when Candy Lightner started the effort after her 13-year-old daughter, Cari, was killed by a drunken driver while walking to a church carnival.

They know, as national board member Chris Mann told Saturday’s crowd, that ignition interlock devices have stopped 1.6 million impaired driving attempts nationwide. The devices, championed by MADD and used by increasing numbers of jurisdictions, prevent a car from starting if the alcohol in a driver’s breath exceeds a programmed level.

Some of the research cited by MADD projects that the group may have saved as many as 300,000 lives since 1980.

But people still die. Many of their names were on signs and stickers and shirts as the people who remember them walked to raise funds for the cause.

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