Sonya Brinton is a volunteer victim advocate for the local Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) chapter. Her life changed forever when her husband and two daughters—Rachel, now 15, and April, now 18—were in a vehicle that was hit by a drunk driver. Walk Like MADD, the organization's 5k noncompetitive family walk and fundraiser, takes place from 8 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Feb. 27, at the UA Mall. For more information on the walk and the local MADD chapter, visit www.madd.org/az/pima.
Why are you involved with MADD?
On June 16, 1996, my first husband and our two girls were involved in a crash, and my first husband was killed. Our youngest daughter was 19 months old, and she was left with a traumatic brain injury. She is partially paralyzed on the left side and has a significant limp. She is 15, but she's on a second- or third-grade level (regarding learning aspects).
That must have been difficult.
I actually lost her three times the first week because she (needed to be revived), and then she was in a coma for 3 1/2 weeks and in rehab for six months.
How did your oldest daughter do?
April was 5, but she was asleep (during the wreck). The truck my husband was driving tumbled, but she just climbed out and didn't know what happened. She ended up with a few stitches on her head.
Do you always think about what happened?
You know ... it's not something I will ever forget, because I see it everyday with Rachel. We'll have four or five good days, and then there are days that aren't so good. I just don't dwell on it, but I can't say I don't think about it.
And your oldest?
Well, my oldest was a daddy's girl. I remarried last July, and my oldest was not accepting of it, but, of course, Rachel absolutely adores him. But I feel like I'm finally letting my wall down. I've fallen in love again. I can't say the pain goes away, but I think we're dealing with it better.
You have to re-live the experience each time you speak on behalf of MADD.
Of course it comes up all over again, but what I think is the most important part of my work is that I want (people) to see what it did to my family—although the guy who hit my family died as well, and left behind a wife with four kids. It's a vicious circle. He messed up his family, too. My (youngest) daughter has to live with this the rest of her life. I want people to know it just doesn't stop with a wreck.
Where do you usually speak?
We have a meeting the first Tuesday of each month up at the midtown Tucson Police Department. One day, this lady came in with her 16-year-old and wanted to drop her off. We told her that an adult needed to stay. Obviously, for whatever reasons, a judge told the 16-year-old she had to be there. They were both unhappy. I wondered if either of them was going to get anything out of the meeting. (Later), that lady came up and hugged me. Evidently, the father is an alcoholic and was trying to stop drinking, and now the daughter was drinking. If I can get through to one person, then my job for the night is done.
Do you think people have misconceptions about MADD?
I think they feel that we are against drinking, and that's not it. We're not about telling people they can't go out and have a good time. We just want them to be safe and responsible, and get a designated driver or take a cab. I tell them to think about Rachel, and if this was your daughter. Think about having the police come to your house and asking you if you are so and so's dad or mom.
What kind of work does MADD do in our community?
They have advocates that go to court with families in drunk-driving cases. My friend Theresa has helped parents bury their babies; she's helped people plan and pay for funerals or get back work wages. It's a tremendous help. We also have a support group that meets once a month, and we have a candlelight vigil. It's coming up at the end of March. ... I've learned it's good to have somebody on the outside of your family who is not going to judge you, and is going to sit and listen to you when you need them.