On June 26, 2009, the life of Carol Moore’s sister Marilyn and, by extension, the entire family, was irrevocably altered when Moore’s brother-in-law was killed by a suspected drunk driver.
Steve Dunn, 53, was working at a construction site on Fla. Hwy. A1A Alternate in Jupiter, Fla., when he and another construction worker, Jesus Resendiz, were struck and killed by a driver who drove into a closed lane. Dunn left behind a daughter and two sons.
The death of Dunn, a Stone Mountain resident who worked for PaveSmart Inc., has led Moore to speak up for victims such as her brother-in-law through a Mothers Against Drunk Driving program.
“I contacted MADD immediately, in part to get some resources for my sister,” Moore said. “(Later) I decided to get involved as a volunteer.”
As a volunteer, Moore’s work with the organization includes sharing her family’s story with those who have been convicted of driving under the influence and other violations at a victim impact panel held each quarter in Colquitt County.
Moore said in addition to those who have drunk driving convictions, she also wants to help students, some of whom she has overheard making remarks about drinking and driving.
“I get into periodic arguments with kids,” she said. “Lots of kids (say) smoking a joint, one drink, isn’t going to alter their perception. They think they’re above it all.”
Moore said she wants people to understand that in a few minutes’ time an accused drunk driver ended the lives of two men, after which the driver traveled back into traffic and was stopped when her car slammed into another driver’s.
“When the police officer got to her, she asked why she was in trouble,” Moore said. “It’s pretty tough. The toughest is to be an indirect family member. For eight months I’ve heard my sister cry over and over she wished she had been with him when he died. Steve was in his prime.
“The really sad thing is its a 100-percent preventable death.”
Two victim impact panels have been held in the county so far, with the next set for 9 a.m. May 15 at Colquitt County Justice Center.
Attending the panel is a condition of probation in DUI sentences for Colquitt County State Court Judge Richard Kent. In addition, people from other counties attend the panel in Moultrie, the only one operating in Southwest Georgia.
“With DUI we’re always concerned about being able to deter offenses by the same person,” Kent said. “Anything to further inform those offenders of the effects of a DUI, I always thought it was a good idea. For some people it’s easy to pay money or spend three days in jail.”
In addition to those convicted of drunk-driving offenses, Kent, who also is judge at municipal courts in Berlin, Doerun and Norman Park, sentences those who were charged with a DUI but pleaded guilty to a lesser offense and those who are convicted of underage possession of alcohol.
“The primary reason is hopefully to get it across, we can actually have people whose lives have been affected by it to come in and talk to them,” he said.
Asked whether he thinks the program is effective, Kent said: “The only thing I can tell you, I’ve never had a person go through that who has been back in court.”
A person whose sentence includes the victim impact panel has two opportunities to attend, Kent said. If he does not attend during that time an arrest warrant can be issued or the probation officer can bring the offender in to explain to Kent why he did not attend.
Gary Robinson, a firefighter, said he decided to approach Kent about sentencing offenders to the victim impact panel after seeing the impact of drunk driving at numerous wreck sites.
As the only such panel in the area, attendees come from nearby counties and even as far as Atlanta and Panama City, Fla., said Robinson, who has been a member of MADD for seven years.
“We need to do something to educate our teenagers and young adults about drunk driving,” Robinson said. “It’s getting worse every day, and left and right fatalities are going up. Having the victim impact panels in Colquitt County, I’m hoping it will change that.”
Attendees pay a $50 money order to the state MADD chapter, which returns that money to Southwest Georgia to combat drunk driving in this area, Robinson said. That funding allows the local chapter to operate the victim impact panel.
Robinson said he is looking for volunteers, both those whose lives have been affected by drunk drivers and to help operate the panel. He also plans to talk to other judges in the area to see if more will sentence offenders to the program.
In addition to families of victims, the panel has speakers from police departments in Moultrie, Tifton and Valdosta, the Georgia State Patrol, Moultrie Fire Department, Colquitt County Emergency Medical Service and Colquitt County Sheriff’s Office.
Robinson can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Offenders have indicated that the program made a difference, Robinson said.
“We had one who was at the last class and said ‘this is my last one (DUI),’” Robinson said. “I think it’s a good program. This one is the only one we’ve got in South Georgia and it’s really making a difference.”
Cynthia Gail Castoro, 44, was charged Sept. 10, 2009 by the Jupiter City Police Department, with two counts of DUI manslaughter in the deaths of Dunn and Resendiz. She also was charged with DUI serious bodily injury and DUI property damage and minor injuries. The latter two charges are related to injuries suffered by two additional construction workers.