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MADD leader speaks

March 03, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG - Asking legislators to pass a law lowering the legal blood alcohol content level from .10 to .08 is important, as is getting more local people involved in efforts to combat drunk driving, the national MADD president told a group Friday night.

Wendy Hamilton, who lost her sister and nephew to a drunken driver in 1984, spoke to 30 or more people at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg. Over the next few days, she will visit five other towns throughout West Virginia, which only has two MADD chapters, including one in Berkeley County.

"This week, we're going to be getting the word out that drunk driving is not an accident," Hamilton said.

Statistics compiled for 2001 show 135 people died in alcohol-related crashes in the state. Nationwide, 300 people die every week, Hamilton said.

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"Every hour we spend together, two people will die," Hamilton told the crowd. "There's one culprit. It's called complacency."

Too many people feel the war against drunk driving has been won, and have ceased to fight, she said.

"We're losing ground, and we're losing lives," she said.

Those in the audience were allowed to ask questions to members of a panel, made up of Hamilton, Sgt. Deke Walker of the West Virginia State Police, Danny Miller of the state Alcohol Beverage Control Administration and MADD victims advocate Cynthia Smailes-Rybak, whose daughter Amanda was killed by a drunken driver in 1996 along U.S. 11 south of Martinsburg.

One man asked Walker why DUI checkpoints are required to be published in the newspaper, including alternate routes.

State and federal law mandates that, Walker said, but 18 drunken drivers were arrested during five checkpoints last year, Walker said.

Responding to another question, Smailes-Rybak said she gets calls from around the state from people who have lost a loved one. Her husband, Ted Rybak, monitors the local court system, keeping track of DUI arrests and jail sentences imposed.

So far this year, Smailes-Rybak said 72 people have been charged with DUI in the county.

Hamilton urged the people in the audience to join MADD or consider starting a new chapter if one does not exist locally.

"If we do nothing, if we say nothing, we change nothing," Hamilton said.

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