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Family, friends remember DUI victims
A Temple Terrace vigil is marked by stories of loss, pain - and hope.
By JUSTIN GEORGE, Times Staff Writer
Published December 7, 2007
During the MADD Hillsborough County candlelight vigil of hope and remembrance, Tanisha Drummond and her daughter, Ariyana Jackson, 4, light a candle in memory of her father, Sgt. Ron Harrison, who was shot to death Aug. 15, not long after leaving a drunken driver checkpoint.
[Melissa Lyttle | Times]
Hillsborough County sheriff's Sgt. Ron Harrison, head of the Sheriff's Office's DUI unit, was ambushed and killed Aug. 15.
[Tampa Alcohol Coalition]
TEMPLE TERRACE - A vigil for the victims of drunken drivers Thursday seemed more like a grim play acted out in gripping, true-life, tragic parts.
Temple Terrace United Methodist Church, decorated with garlands, red bows and Christmas trees and featuring a choir, had the trappings of a stage performance of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. But there were different ghosts - memories - that hung above the crowd, and there were other sober lessons to impart on this night.
On everyone's mind at the annual Hillsborough County Mothers Against Drunk Driving Candlelight Vigil of Hope and Remembrance was the Aug. 15 death of Hillsborough County sheriff's Sgt. Ron Harrison, head of the Sheriff's Office's DUI unit, who was ambushed and killed by a man intent upon killing a cop.
Christmas bells tolled Amazing Grace as late arrivals put portraits of dead family members on tables up front.
On a signal, pews emptied out, row by row, until a single-file line made a circular stroll through the parking lot. Sheriff's patrol cars illuminated the night with blue and red lights. Stone-faced, white-uniformed deputies rimmed the walkway, looking straight ahead.
The survivors made their way past the squad cars in a silent walk, reminding all of the accident scenes where people had died. The procession closed with a pass by the black-draped sheriff's vehicle Harrison drove.
Re-entering the church, the crowd saw a montage of victims' snapshots on the projection screen - people in graduation gowns, golf visors, senior picture poses and backwards hats.
Then, some came forward, addressing different themes.
Grief: Helen Gorman spoke of her daughter, Laura, 18, killed Feb. 25, 2006. "The grief is paralyzing," she said. "It's everywhere."
Love: The Ryan family talked of the deep bond with their mother, killed Feb. 11, 2007.
Courage: Deputy Gus Garcia stuttered through his story. Ata DUI stop, a driver slammed into his parked patrol car and crushed his neck and back, causing brain injury. "From that day forward, I said I'd never give up," he said, standing.
Peace: Sgt. Harrison's daughter Ronnee represented peace, but her message was unsettling as she said her father wouldn't be there to walk her down the aisle.
Law enforcement: Harrison's colleagues spoke, including Deputy Jason Haynes, who has recovered after a drunk driver slammed into him.
Youth: Miss Teen Galaxy Amanda Mason, wearing a tiara and banner, cried, overcome with the emotion of the night.
Hope: Alyssa Perrino, 5, who suffered brain injuries in an accident Feb. 16, stood before everyone Thursday.
Then, the pews emptied out and people lit a bank of candles for loved ones.