Christmas Season, the Most Dangerous Time for Drunk Driving Deaths

Dolores Pastran’s voice breaks and she can’t stop the tears every time she talks about her grandson, Kurt Robert Shrout.

The 28-year-old died on Dec. 11, 2014, while riding with a woman who was drunk.

“He was with friends at the Redondo Beach Pier. They were drinking. They say he was too drunk to drive. One of the people there said that she would drive and, from what I was told, she didn’t even have a license,” Pastran recounted.

At approximately 3:15 a.m., while going over the speed limit on a street in Torrance, the car they were driving hit something, flipped over many times, and was cut in half. The car ended a block away.

“The driver got a DUI but survived,” she said.

Kurt, whom Pastran has raised as a son, died as a result of the crash.

“Our whole life has been turned around,” she said. “We depended on him for emotion, love.

“This is not an accident. For people who know how awful it is to lose someone to a drunk driver, it is the devastation. People can just call somebody to take them home,” Pastran said.

They’ve been in grief counseling since then, but still unable to fully recover from the loss.

“Until you lose a child, you don’t know how hard it is,” Pastran said. “If you have a family you love [you need to think about it] because once you’re gone, you’re gone, and you’re leaving a trail full of people walking this awful journey.”

The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is the deadliest time of the year for drunk driving accidents, said Pat Rillera, regional executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Southern California, which on Dec. 3 participated in the first ever National Day of Remembrance.

Pastran and her husband were also there to remember their grandson.

Nationwide events at MADD locations paid homage to survivors and remembered those who have died as a result of somebody taking the wheel while intoxicated.

A moment of silence followed by a press conference took place at the Toyota USA Automobile Museum in Torrance to raise awareness of MADD’s victim services, and to let victims know that they always have a place at MADD.

“We want everybody to know they always have a place where they can turn to for help in MADD,” Rillera said.

Doctor Speaks Out

At the Dec. 11 Holiday Traffic Safety press conference hosted by the California Highway Patrol, Dr. Larry Stock, President-Elect, California Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, spoke of the difficult situations he and other doctors must deal with when drunk-driving accident victims are brought to hospitals and medical centers for treatment.

“I understand far too well the devastating consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol,” Stock said. “We do everything in our power to save lives and heal the injured, but sometimes it is not enough and we have to deliver the most difficult news to the families of those involved in these tragic incidents.

“The hardest part is knowing that these accidents are preventable. As we celebrate the holidays, I want to encourage everyone not to drink and drive.”

CHP Southern Division Assistant Chief Chris O’Quinn, at the same press conference, said multiple law enforcement agencies were working to further educate communities on the dangers of drunk driving, and how the public must also help in eliminating the threat on the local, state and national highways.

“We all have the responsibility and, most importantly, the ability to save a life by keeping a friend or loved one from driving while intoxicated,” O’Quinn said.

MADD was founded in 1980 by Candace Lightner, a mother whose 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver. For 35 years, (MADD) has been the nation’s largest nonprofit working to end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these crimes and prevent underage drinking.

“Drunk driving deaths are physically and emotionally devastating, and one of the hardest times for families is these times when they miss loved ones at the table,” Rillera said.

In 2013, 867 people died from drunk driving crashes in California, which represents 29 percent of all traffic fatalities. Nationwide, more than 10,000 lives were lost due to drunk driving and another 290,000 people were injured in drunk driving crashes that same year.

The last two months of the year account for a number of these victims.

“People are celebrating, there’s a lot of festivities and parties where people drink and, unfortunately, when people are celebrating, they sometimes get behind the wheel,” Rillera said.

In fact, New Year’s Day is one of the deadliest days of the year for drunk driving deaths.

In 2013, 160 people were killed nationwide due a drunk driver in the period after midnight on New Year’s Day.

Preventable Deaths

“These deaths are 100 percent preventable,” noted Rillera, who encourages people to designate a non-drinking driver to make sure the roads are safe, take public transportation, call a ride sharing business or cab, or call someone to take them home.

“What we’re trying to let people know is that the person who gets behind the wheel has options, there are alternate ways to get home without having to drink and drive,” she said.

MADD is often the rock people can cling to after losing a loved one to a drunk driver.

“We understand the grief,” Rillera said.

The agency offers counseling services, help with burial expenses and most importantly, help with filing a lawsuit and navigating the legal and court system after one of these deaths.

“We offer court accompaniment, we tell them their rights,” Rillera said, noting that the majority of victim’s families usually file a lawsuit against a drunk driver.

“I went to MADD because my niece told me about them. They just helped us out emotionally. They went to court with us,” said Pastran, who stressed the advice not to get into a car while drunk or with someone whose been drinking.        

“You may die or you may cause somebody to die, but you’re leaving people behind who are never going to get over this,” she added.