Freeland man moves to establish MADD chapter

After the death of Jim Gervais’ daughter Karen he got angry and decided to do something about it.

And when he did, he got MADD. Gervais decided to establish a Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter on Whidbey’s South End.

MADD, a national organization, has a mission to stop drunk driving. It also supports the victims of drunk driving accidents and tries to prevent underage drinking. Candy Lightner founded the non-profit organization in 1980 in California after the death of her daughter, Cari, and MADD now has more than 400 chapters nationwide.

Karen Gervais-Boone died after a head-on collision in January. The other driver, Randi Shelton, was later charged with vehicular homicide for driving under the influence.

Gervais and Karen’s friend, Sandra Stipe, have since joined with Brian Grimm, who lost a nephew to a drunk driving accident, to stop drunk driving.

Initially, the team of three wanted to see how much community support they might muster and joined with Sheriff Mark Brown at an community outreach effort earlier this month to gauge support for the new chapter.

Stipe said nearly 70 people have been arrested so far this year for DUI.

“Since January, there have been 69 DUI arrests and that was just with the Island County Sheriffs, not Washington state Patrol,” Stipe said.

“That is a lot of DUI arrests. There were 12 deaths by car collision in 2006 and out of those 12, seven were related to alcohol abuse.”

Stipe and other organizers of an island MADD chapter are looking for helpers.

“If we have enough people in the South End that want to get behind this and put it together, we could step up to MADD’s mission,” she said.

Establishing goals for the MADD chapter would require a working group, Stipe said. Those volunteers would press for tough legislation on DUI drivers, increased law enforcement and education efforts to teach children not to drink.

But advances in technology could also be used, she said, such as devices installed in vehicles that would not allow people who have been drinking to drive.

“We could work on promoting alternative transportation strategies for people who insist on drinking. We don’t want them driving,” she said. “But to make the program successful, we’d need leaders and we’d need helpers.”

While Stipe and Grimm have formed the nucleus of the working group of the MADD chapter, Gervais is the public face of the toll of drunk driving. He said he wants to fundamentally change attitudes about drinking and driving, and he has the state Legislature and Olympia in his sights.

“I want to make sure that we have a cultural non-acceptance of drinking and driving. Drinking is fine in my perspective,” he said. “Prohibition didn’t work.

“In this morning’s paper, there was a story of a councilwoman over in Seattle who had a couple of drinks and drove and was arrested for DUI. I want to change the culture that says it is OK to do this.

“If you drive, you do it sober,” Gervais said.

He is also looking to spread the message beyond Whidbey.

“I want to think in terms of the state because that is how we have our legal bounds. And ultimately, the country. My want is to get into the power positions of this state to influence their decision and maximize the penalties for the people who do the drunk driving,” he said.

Grimm also had his own loss dealing with drunk driving as well, when his cousin was killed during a single-car accident.

“Our hopes are to protect anyone who sees themselves in a mirror,” said Grimm. “I want to be able to protect the victim in this, the guy in the bar so that he not only saves other people, he saves himself by not getting in that car.

“Eventually I would like to have a family-type MADD where we are educating the next generation.”

People interested in volunteering for the newly-formed MADD chapter can call Stipe at 331-4248.

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