A Winona area woman who was hit by a drunken driver woke up days later, paralyzed from the chest down. A Wabasha area mother lost her son to a hit-and-run driver who she believes was impaired. Last year, 104 people died in the state of Minnesota as a result of drunken driving accidents. When the mistakes of impaired drivers damage and destroy lives, the results echo through communities, yet driving while drunk continues to be commonplace. Minnesota traffic safety groups estimate that, despite thousands of driving while intoxicated (DWI) arrests around the state, police only catch one in 18 drunken drivers.
The driver who paralyzed the Winona area woman was also a hit-and-run driver. He sped off after hitting the woman’s vehicle and changed seats with his wife. Police were able to determine that he had been driving after the man’s young son, who was in the back seat, told them his father had been driving. That man never served prison time, the woman said. She has been in a wheelchair for over 40 years.
“It’s such a far-reaching thing,” the woman said of impaired driving. “It’s not just one car or one accident. It has a ripple effect on families and whole communities.” The impact of injuries extends beyond the hospital, she said. Her own family “shared the burden” of helping her adjust after the accident, she said. “It changes a life; it’s never the same.”
“When people set out to have a good time and if they choose to drink, they need to think about what the consequences [of driving drunk] could be, the impact they could have on a mother or brother—It’s forever,” said the mother whose son was killed by a hit-and-run driver. For an impaired driver involved in an accident, “your main concern is going to court and being arrested, but you’re not planning a funeral, you’re not going without someone for the rest of your life and the plans you’ve made are all gone. That doesn’t compare to being caught driving and drinking,” she said.
“I’m very grateful for all the efforts that our police officers, deputies, and state troopers have made to make our roads safer,” the mother added. She asked people to be more responsible when they drink. “People just need to plan ahead.”
Sending people to jail does not help victims, the Winona area woman said. Fines collected in DWI cases go to the state, where that money may or may not make its way back to benefit victims, she said. She wishes there were more financial help for victims who may not be able to work or may need assistance in their lives after they leave the hospital. “I don’t know what the solution is; I just wish there were one,” she said.