Families remember DWI victims

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Betty Burch of Clovis spoke Tuesday about her son who was killed by a drunken driver.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

Eighty-eight probationers gathered Tuesday in the North Annex of the Clovis-Carver Public Library to hear DWI victims speak of their experiences.

At the front of the room sat photographs of people killed by drunken drivers in Curry County.

One of the five speakers, Betty Burch, 72, held up her son’s photograph. Her son, Curtis, smiled back from the photograph wearing his military uniform. He was killed at the age of 21.

“My son made a serious mistake. He got into a car with a drunk driver,” Burch said. The vehicle rolled and ejected Curtis Burch from the car, and then the car landed on top of him, his mother said. Her son was placed on a respirator at the scene of the accident, she said.

Betty Burch and her husband had to decide to take her son off the respirator two days later because his body functions never resumed.

“I have a flag from the U.S. government. I have a letter from President Ronald Reagan. I don’t have Curtis,” a choked up Burch said. “Think of him when you take that drink and you are going to drive.”

In the first nine months of 2007, there were 32 DWI arrests made in Curry County. There were 529 DWI arrests made from 2001 through 2006, according to Curry County DWI Coordinator Connie Harrison. From 2001 to 2006 there were 18 alcohol-related fatalities in Curry County, Harrison said.

DWI Task Force chair Lonnie Leslie has been telling the story of his parents’ deaths since 1998 when the victim impact panel meetings began. He said the meetings are held to show probationers how drunken driving has affected the speakers’ lives.

“Different things affect people in different ways,” Leslie said. “This is one tool that hopefully will help people make better decisions when it comes to drinking and driving an automobile.”

Leslie spoke to the group about the gruesome deaths of his mother and father when he was in college. Though he told in detail about his parents’ deaths, he also focused on the fact that not only those killed by drunken drivers are the victims. Leslie discussed how he, as well as the mother of the drunken driver, who he spoke to 25 years after the accident, are victims.

“It’s amazing how many people’s lives are affected by that decision to drink and drive,” Leslie said. “Cops, mothers, drunk drivers. It just keeps going.”

Ramona Altieri attended the meeting in support of one of the probationers.

“I think the speakers are very powerful. They are first-hand teachers,” Altieri said.

The probationers in attendance were sent to the meeting by a parole officer, a judge or an attorney, Harrison said. Harrison and Leslie said the meeting is a preventive measure.

“We want to tell them that we don’t want that to happen to you or for you to be in the position to (impact others’ lives through drunk driving),” Leslie said.

By the numbers
DWI arrests in Curry County:
2001: 119
2002: 119
2003: 120
2004: 38
2005: 66
2006: 67
2007 though Sept.: 32

Source: Curry County DWI Coordinator Connie Harrison