Friday, June 17, 2016

DUI no one wins

Shortly after our vehicle rescue training concluded, we responded to a car accident reported with injuries. Upon arrival, we assessed the vehicles involved and we were prepared to apply what we had just practiced.

They say your training “kicks-in” and it did now that I have more knowledge of how to stabilize vehicles, and how to access entrapped patients using hand tools and hydraulic tools. We did what our instructor taught us, including putting the vehicle flashers on because we couldn’t disable battery due to the damage. The airbags in one of the vehicles had deployed. We are careful of non-deployed airbags for safety reasons as we work.

Fortunately no occupants were seriously injured. That is not always the case. I have reported on numerous fatal crashes, including DUI-related crashes. Police had one driver perform a sobriety test. I’ve seen that conducted as a journalist, a volunteer firefighter and a by-passer. Between interviewing families and gathering information from first-responders, the time of the DUI–related crash and DUI arrests stick out to me, especially daytime ones. 

Our crew returned to the station early afternoon, nearly two hours before my deadline to submit a column on how a Chester County high school graduation honored a student who had been killed by a drunk driver. 

While 367 Downingtown West High School students received their diploma at commencement, a rose remained on an otherwise empty seat for Charlotte Hannagan who was there only in spirit. The crash during her junior year robbed her of everything at 16. Her brother Miles Hannagan, 19, also died in the crash. Their parents Maggie and Paul Hannagan were both injured in the crash while the other driver walked away without needing Band-Aid. The drunk driver was 25 at the time, around my age. 

Photo by Pete Bannan - Digital First Media
Downingtown West High School honors departed students by placing a rose on their seat at their graduation. One rose is in loving memory of Charlotte Hannagan, a 16-year-old who was killed by a drunk driver. 

Hours before Maggie and Paul attended graduation, they spoke at a press conference about the ignition interlock law. I’ve recently reported about how they, along with Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Drivers (PA PAID), have advocated for more effective state laws to save lives. Days before Miles would have turned 21, the governor signed into law requiring first-time offenders convicted of driving with an illegal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .10 or greater to use ignition interlocks for one year. Currently the locks are required for repeat offenders.

Following that, his parents told me about a celebration they will never have. Miles looked forward to sharing a pint with his parents on his 21st birthday.

When I interviewed Charlotte’s teachers a week after the siblings were killed on Valentine’s Day 2015, I learned that the she would have been 17 before her story printed. For the family and friends, birthdays are hard. Special moments like birthdays, graduations and holidays are hurtful when our loved ones aren’t here to celebrate it.

PA PAID has an important message, as Maggie said, that becoming intoxicated and driving is a deliberate choice. As parents held back tears during interviews, they said how they taught their child not to drive impaired and yet they died as a result of someone else’s selfish act that endangered others on the road. I hope people remember Charlotte and Miles, and others who were killed by a drunk driver, before they get behind the wheel after drinking.

Maggie said that when her children were killed, that “in an instant, the dreams and aspirations of our children were ended.” Maggie said she and Paul have great sorrow thinking about what might have been for Charlotte and Miles.

I’ll always remember that Charlotte wanted to be a tattoo artist, despite never having one herself, and how Miles was attending my alma mater to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps to become an optometrist. As a journalist I learn about people I’ve never met when reporting to keep their memory alive.

Miles served days shy of two years as an EMT. We have in common that we chose to serve to help people, especially those involved in car accidents. I hope to become an EMT too. I think it’s beneficial as firefighter, which several crew members who are EMTs recommend.


  1. You’re right! No one wins against a DUI case. That graduation picture tells the story of how many people are affected by one person making the decision to go drive after they have had too much alcohol. Cut down in the prime of their life without ever having to see what all that hard work in school could have created.

    Kim Hunter @ KHunterLaw

  2. How sad it is to see people taken from their lives by a drunk driver. What's worse is that those two kids were just teenage kids. I'll bet the parents have a lot of guilt since they lived and their kids didn't. The person who got away with no more than a scratch has to deal with what he did.

  3. I have to agree with you that the parents are the ones who have to deal with this pain the rest of their lives. So many memories will be robbed from them, and all because someone felt drinking and driving wasn't too big a risk. I believe those school programs on DUI do have a huge impact and can save lives.