My name is Bob Dix, I'm the Hunter Mill district member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
My involvement in attempting to enforce and enhance laws to prevent drunk driving are the result of a personal experience of my own. In 1977 my then-17 year old sister had just begun her senior year in high school. I remember it vividly because it was a Saturday, and in fact, I had coached my first football game of the season that morning, and had a successful beginning of the season. I was in a restaurant, in fact, that evening having something to eat. And it was kind of late, it was about ten o'clock at night, a restaurant in Vienna, and I heard sirens, from fire trucks and ambulances. And of course, curious, but not knowing what it was all about.
About 3 hours later, I found out what it was all about when I recieved a telephone call to tell me that my 17 year old sister, who was a passenger in an automobile, had been involved in an accident 2 blocks from my parents' home, and she had been killed. The driver of the automobile was intoxicated. Evidently, my sister and her boyfriend were going from one party to another party, and basically hitched a ride with the driver. Of course I had no way of knowing whether she knew that he had been drinking or not. But in travelling from one place the other, travelling down Nutley street, in the vicinity of what's now the Vienna metro station, got into a race with an orange Corvette, and failed to negotiate a turn on Nutley street. The car left the road, went airborne, hit a tree... My sister was thrown from the car, she was the middle passenger in the vehicle... and the car flipped over and landed on top of her. All evidence that we have is that she was not killed immediately, that she was making an effort to extract herself from beneath the vehicle, at which time... well, whatever went wrong, and she did not survive the accident.
The driver had very few injuries. The other passenger, I believe the extent of his injuries was a broken arm. The judicial process, I felt, was not sufficiently addressing this infraction. This driver recieved as his penalty upon conviction of driving under the influence a six month suspension of his driver's license. Regrettably, the laws are still not sufficient, in my judgement, because this same driver... The most current information that i have is that this same driver who was responsible for my sister's death has been convicted of driving under the influence at least ten times subsequent to the time that he was involved in a fatal collision, at least one other of those incidents involving a personal injury. Clearly this individual is a habitual offender, and should never be allowed the privilege of operating a motor vehicle again, in my judgement.
I made the commitment to myself then. I was 24 years old at the time, she was my only sister. I made the commitment at that time that I would spend the rest of my life attempting to be involved in programs to create strong foundations in good decision making for young people, and to do what I could to provide alternative activities, so that there would not be other youngsters that would find themselves on a Saturday night with the only thing to do to travel from one party to the other, and assume the risk of either being in an automobile with an impaired driver or being subject to another driver on the road who might be impaired. That's why I spend as much time as I do on teen centers, it's why I have spent as much time as I have coaching youth sports, it's why I have been involved with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other legislative efforts to try and make the penalties and the imposition of those penalties stronger, particularly with repeat offenders and habitual offenders.
The laws of Virginia are still not sufficient, in my judgement. The General Assembly this past year had an opportunity, an iniative from Fairfax County and other members of the Assembly, to strengthen the laws and to create mandatory sentencing for repeat offenders, and they refused to do that. I don't think society yet takes the whole issue of drunk driving seriously. More young people are killed in drunk driving-related accidents than any other cause in America. And most people don't know that. Just two years ago, a 17 year old high school student from Langley High School was killed in a drunk driving accident. She was a member of the Langley varsity girls' basketball team which my wife was the assistant coach for. And sitting in that church at that service brought back very vivid memories for me, because many of the circumstances surrounding that loss were very similar to the one involving my sister.
Now a lot of people don't realize that once a family has experienced the tragedy of losing a loved one, there is obviously a healing period, but never does it go away. In this particular case, my mother, who was not a well woman at the time anyway, but I believe after my sister was killed, she gave up her fight to remain healthy, and 13 months after my sister was killed, my mother passed away at the age of 47. And I'm convinced that the true cause of death was a broken heart. And families deal with the tragedy of a violent death. I won't go into the details of what my sister experienced, but if anybody thinks that dying in an alcohol-related automobile collision is not a violent death, I have news for them. It is an extremely violent and brutal way for people to die or be injured.
It is imperative that all of us, as citizens, as leaders, as elected officials, give sufficient attention to this matter from a public policy standpoint, to convince people that they should not drink and drive. Some have accused me of trying to impair people's ability to have social activities. That's not the case at all. I don't really care how much anybody drinks. What I care about is if they decide to drink and get behind the wheel of a 4000 pound piece of equipment that becomes a lethal weapon at the hands of an impaired driver. I care about that a lot. And responsible people would not do that. And if people cannot accept the responsibility, then they should not be permitted to drive, and if they do it repeatedly then I believe they should suffer the consequences of very strong judicial process, including incarceration.
- Robert B. Dix, Jr.
Q. Is there anything final that you would like to say to the audience?
A. I think that it's important to note that my sister made a bad decision. She paid for that bad decision with her life. She got into an automobile operated by somebody who was under the influence of alcohol. I would say to all young people: make good decisions. Because there are times when if you don't, the consequences are very high. Barbara doesn't get a second chance. She was a child that overcame diabetes that almost killed her when she was six years old to become able to live a pretty much normal life. She was going to cosmotology classes, and she had a bright future. And in a matter of moments, that future was gone. And even today, 21 years later, the pain of that loss -- my baby sister no longer being here to meet my wife, to meet my son, to share in the things that life is all about, that families enjoy -- is a tragic, tragic loss. And I would hope that we as a society can focus more attention on the issue, that we can take it more seriously, that we can try and save lives and reduce injury, and that young people will learn to make better decisions, and that we as communities can offer more alternatives in the way young people have to spend their leisure time.