You were ripped from our lives and our hearts 20 years ago. I can’t put into words how heartbroken I am thinking about how it happened – so tragically, so suddenly, and so preventable. I get even more upset when I think about what could have been. You would have been so proud to see your nieces and nephew and watch them grow up, spoiling them with hugs and love.
March 6, 1998 – you were home from school on Spring Break. Just the day before, I spent a couple hours with you at Mom and Dad’s and it was so nice to see you. While I don’t remember what we spoke about exactly, I know that we enjoyed each other. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, and when you went away to Saint Bonaventure just months before it definitely strengthened our relationship. The letters and cards that you sent me from school make me sob. They sit in a shoebox and I can’t bring myself to read them.
The details of that March night are so clear in my mind because I’ve been speaking about that crash for decades. It was a Friday night, you were riding with your friend Katie in her car on Seneca Street in South Buffalo. The two of you were chatting and catching up when another car came speeding toward you. Michael McCarthy was driving drunk, he crossed over the double yellow line and hit the car you were riding in. Police say he was driving 55 mph in a 30 mph zone. His BAC was .14, he was arrested, plead guilty, and was in jail for 10 years because of what he did to you and Katie.
Karen, I wish I could say people don’t drive drunk anymore. They still do, but unlike 1998, there are stronger laws and I’m hoping society is opening their eyes more to the dangers of having 1, 2, 3 drinks or more and then driving. I kind of understand when first time offenders get arrested, many tell me that’s it and they won’t do it again. What bothers me more than anything else are the offenders who have multiple DWI arrests (like McCarthy) and end up killing or severely injuring someone – they are given so many second chances and they just don’t learn a lesson the first or second time.
I have been speaking out about how drunk driving tears apart families and ruins lives for so long. Some people have asked me if it’s hard, it’s not actually. It makes me feel better, knowing that I am giving you a voice when you can no longer speak. I tell people how amazing you were, what a life you lived, and unfortunately what we were all robbed of when you were torn from our lives.
If that crash would not have happened, who would you be now? You would be closing in on your 39th birthday, perhaps you would be married and have a family of your own, maybe you would be working in sports medicine or a trainer for a professional sports team. It’s such a loss, so heartbreaking to think about what could have been.
Your nieces and nephew know you as their angel. It breaks my heart that you aren’t around to see what amazing kids they are. Alyssa has corrected her little sister when she says that Mommy doesn’t have a brother or sister – “Just because you can’t see Aunt Karen, doesn’t mean she’s not here. Mommy will always be a big sister.” You would be so proud! When I go “talk about Aunt Karen”, they always give me huge hugs because they know that it can be a very emotional experience.
March 6th is a hard day for us, I shed so many tears reliving that horrific day, but I also try to focus on what a great life you led – even though it was short. Karen, you left such a lasting impression on so many people! Your friends tell me stories even today of your spirit – generous, fun loving, and a friend to so many.
Even all these years later, I see and hear signs that you are always with me. There are songs that remind me of you. Songs with lyrics that speak to me, but other songs that came out in the 80s and 90s and I know you enjoyed them. When Mom and I see bunnies and butterflies, we take those sightings as more signs that you are with us.
Karen, I miss you, I love you so very much, and I will continue to keep your memory alive as I speak out about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Your Big Sister “Dee”