EDITORIAL | JoAnn Hellmann made a mighty contribution

For the past 16 years, JoAnn Hellmann has fought on the front lines of a never-ending and tragic war, the war against drunk driving.

As a co-founder, former director and panel facilitator of the Impaired Driving Impact Panel of Island County (or IDIPIC), she’s one of our community’s greatest unsung heroes. A victim and warrior both, she’s spent the years tirelessly and quietly educating our children, friends and neighbors of the perils of driving under the influence, and crusading for positive change. She has undoubtedly saved lives, yet most are likely unaware of her mighty contribution.

Hellmann is retiring this month and we’d like to be among the first to express our appreciation and gratitude for everything she’s done. You have made a difference, JoAnn, and be assured that we know it.

IDIPIC was formed in 2000 by Hellmann and Karen Lewis to combine “correction with prevention” in an effort to decrease incidents of DUIs and underage drinking in Island County. The organization also provided “creative sentencing” for court-ordered DUI and minor in possession offenders in the county who would have otherwise had to travel off-island.

Since its inception, facilitators have presented over 400 impact panels and have also presented numerous age-appropriate programs at local schools — over 32,000 individuals have attended prevention panels and thousands more have attended other organization programs.

Sadly, the war against drunk driving will likely never be won. People like to drink, and some invariably make the decision to get behind the wheel. When they do, they jeopardize not just their own lives but those of the innocent as well. Case in point, over 10,000 deaths are attributed to DUIs nationwide every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And it’s not just something that happens far away in other communities. In the past two years alone, three people have died on Whidbey Island in what police suspect were alcohol or drug-related accidents.

The victims include 61-year-old Tim Keil of Freeland, a family man who was active in his church and who was, ironically, involved in helping suffering alcoholics to achieve sobriety; Keesha Harden, an 18-year-old Coupeville resident; and just this month Randall Lorraine, 58, of Langley, struck from behind while riding his bike home from work.

The accused in the above tragedies are all in different stages of the court process, and none have been found guilty of vehicular homicide — yet. The existence of such cases, however, make clear that alcohol and drugs remain a problem in Island County. How much worse the issue might be without people like Hellmann and others at IDIPIC is hard to say as it’s impossible to know definitively how many would have died had it not been for their efforts.

We believe it’s a lot.

Thanks again, JoAnn, for fighting so long in this heartbreaking war. May all the people you’ve saved live long and happy lives.