Putting a face on the severity of drunk driving
The man responsible for killing Mary Malakowsky's daughter nearly 30 years ago was so drunk he could hardly stand up. His friends laughed and carried him out to his car and they even turned the key becaise he couldn't just befor he drove away.
Ever since Shelly Malakowsky was decapitated and killed on the interstate near Faribault, her mother has endured unending nightmares.
And she doesn't mince words when it comes to talking about what Bill Israelson, a pro golfer from northern Minnesota, did to her family.
"He can go to hell," Mary Kay says. "There is no remorse there at all."
Putting a face on the victims of drunk driving. That's what we've attempted to do over the past 18 months through sharing stories like the Malakowsky case in an effort to decrease alcohol-related crashes and save lives.
Even though progress has been made over the past 30 years in decreasing alcohol-related deaths, the statistics are still staggering. Every 51 minutes a drunk driver kills someone. But the issue isn’t about numbers, but rather real life devastation.
This week we culminate our special drunk driving campaign with a special section highlighting the extensive human toll that drinking and driving can have. We have provided personal accounts from victims, families and others whose lives have been shattered. Through it all, there is one key underlining theme: none of it had to happen.
I first came across Mary Kay a few years after her daughter’s death when I was a cub reporter at the Austin TV station. Her story is a tearjerker that probably could make the most stoic and uncaring person in the world come to grips with their life.
I have kept in contact with her over the years and the story never gets easier to absorb.
Mary Kay is not afraid to tell her story even if it means sharing the blood, guts and gore of what happened on Aug. 22, 1988. She is extremely direct and matter-of-fact as she relives the horror of what a drunk driver has put her family through.
Over the years I have heard Mary Kay speak at least a dozen times. Never once have I been able to leave with a dry eye. I have seen her bring hardened drunks to tears. It’s perhaps the worst alcohol-related death I have ever heard about.
In 2004, another family came into my life that has had an incredible impact on the drunk driving issue. Nathan and Connie Backstrom lost their three sons in a DWI crash near Farmington. I have also heard them speak many times in a variety of settings and again it always ends up being a sobfest for me.
The Backstrom boys, ages 16 to 20, were on their way home from a shopping trip when a drunk driver on his cell phone barreled into their vehicle. The horrific journey for the Backstroms puts yet another face on the devastation left behind by drunk drivers.
Ever since I crossed paths with Mary Kay in the early 1990s, I have been passionate about drunk driving both as a journalist and as a police officer. It's important that we don't give up on the way against impaired driving.
And heck, you don't even have to be in the media or law enforcement to have an impact. We can all make a difference by changing our attitudes and making sure no one gets behind the wheel drunk.
I hope the faces we have put on drunk driving through our "You Booze, You Drive, You Lose" campaign will make you go in hot pursuit of ending the senseless carnage that riddles our roadways and devastates innocent families.