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Advocates bring caring comfort after DUI tragedies

Called MADDvocates, they are priceless to families of victims of alcohol-related crashes, helping them cope.

By JOUNICE L. NEALY

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 16, 2000


Hours after Stephen Hasbrouck was killed by a man accused of drunken driving, his son sat at a computer and clicked on a mouse in search of comfort for his grief.

Emotionally stranded and looking for answers, Kevin Hasbrouck surfed the Web and discovered someone who could help.

The 30-year-old St. Petersburg man found a listener and a supporter in Cheryl Price, a victim advocate dedicated to those who have suffered because of alcohol-related fatalities or injuries. Price is the latest addition to a growing statewide staff of advocates, also called MADDvocates.

The state chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving received a $250,000 federal grant last year that is paying for a staff of seven advocates around the state to help victims.

There are other paid MADDvocates in Jacksonville, Ocala, Lakeland, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Tallahassee who have been on staff since the first grant was awarded in 1997. Before that, advocates were either volunteers or paid by a local MADD chapter.

Price first went to Tampa in May and was transferred to Clearwater on Oct. 1. She now serves Pinellas and west Pasco counties.

"I think this is great that they had somebody in Pinellas County," Kevin Hasbrouck said. "I was shocked that (the police department) didn't have anybody" designated solely for victims of DUI crashes.

After finding Price, "if nothing else, I was able to vent," he said.

In August, Stephen Hasbrouck was sitting in his Cadillac at a red light on his way home to take his family out to dinner. Police say the Dodge Ram van Raymond Bahling was drivingbarreled down the Interstate 275 exit ramp at 22nd Avenue N. Bahling's van hit a median, went airborne and landed on Hasbrouck's Cadillac.

Bahling's blood-alcohol level was 0.22 percent,almost three times the threshold at which the state presumes impairment, according to police. He has been charged with DUI-manslaughter.

The help that Price gave to the Hasbrouck family "was extremely comforting, (although) there's very little anybody can do at a time like this," said Kevin Hasbrouck. "It's not something you can prepare for in the least."

To grieving families, advocates like Price are priceless. They are sounding boards, escorts and liaisons. They listen to grieving and angry family members, accompany them to funeral services, keep track of criminal cases, talk to prosecutors and give regular briefings to families. MADDvocates also help victims prepare statements for court, apply for crash-related benefits and introduce victims to other victims, support groups and professional counselors.

Most people don't know that MADDvocates perform these services because the perception has been that MADD, as an organization, only lobbies for tougher laws, Price said.

In fact, that's similar to what Kevin Hasbrouck thought of the group. Now he realizes he was wrong.

MADD membership also consists of men and people who have not been personally affected by a drunken-driving tragedy.

Price started as a volunteer with MADD in Tennessee in 1995. No one close to her has ever been killed by a drunken driver, but she saw an ad and decided to volunteer. She sold her credit bureau business and moved back to Florida.

"This is what I was meant to do. I just didn't know it," said Price, 52, who grew up in Clearwater and graduated from Dunedin High School.

For her, the toughest situations are when a family member is charged with a victim's death. She has had it happen three times. "That can tear a family apart," she said.

Most of Price's job is listening, she said. Grieving families often get a lot of support during the first week, but soon after the funeral, the flood of phone calls, visits and casseroles dries up.

Price is there long after friends and family leave, and she works with a lot of families who live out of state.

Last week Price attended a hearing in Tampa with the Smiths of Tennessee. Their 19-year-old son, Brandon Smith, an airman at MacDill Air Force Base, was killed in a triple-fatality crash in Tampa in April.

Airman Shawn Falla, 20, and the driver, Troy Call, were also killed in the collision. Another passenger, Robert Falla, was injured.

The driver of the other car, Joseph Safrany, has been charged with DUI-manslaughter, vehicular homicide, serious bodily injury and DUI property damage. A passenger in his car, Rodney Stetham, was injured.

Both drivers, however, were drunk, according to police reports.

There could be several more hearings before Safrany's trial begins, said Jennifer Smith, Brandon Smith's mother.

"You have to realize we are in Tennessee," Jennifer Smith said. "If I didn't have Cheryl, how would I know what's going on or when the next court date is?"

"Any information she gets -- I mean, she's called my house at 8:30 in the morning to tell me something," she added. She said she appreciates those kinds of phone calls "because that was my son. I have to know that justice is being done."

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