Victim advocates waiting for a call to help

MADD volunteers say few are seeking advice

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Dec. 11, 2006, 10:38 a.m.)

Patrick and Patricia Collins have a special phone line in their house and they're just waiting for it to ring.

The Mothers Against Drunk Driving Community Action Site Leaders say they're ready and willing to help victims involved in alcohol-related accidents, but few have been calling.

"There are a lot of drunk driving crashes around here, but we don't get a lot of calls from victims and families. Maybe it's because they don't know we're here," said Patricia, who with Patrick became MADD victim advocates in July. The couple serves Rock, Walworth and Racine counties.

"We're trying to get the word out to people. We're here to help them and help them get through this," she continued.

So far, the Collinses have had one victim, interestingly from Kenosha County, who has sought advice and comfort. Both know there are plenty more out there in the tri-county area they serve.

They're willing because they've been there themselves. Three years ago this Christmas, Patrick's brother, Gary, was killed by a drunk driver in the Chicago area.
"The reason we got involved is (MADD) helped us and our family so much," Patricia said. "I can't imagine going through it without them. It's hard to get through it without an understanding of the criminal justice system."

The MADD representatives can help in a myriad of ways, the Collinses said.

They are prepared to go to court with victims - either those personally injured or people close to those injured or killed - to explain the process. Sometimes they can find state grant money for medical or funeral bills. They can also refer victims to civil attorneys, mental health professionals, clergy members or funeral homes if need be.

Most importantly, they are there to listen.

"If they're looking for anything, usually it's looking for consolation," Patrick said. "If they want to talk, we're here to listen and refer them to whatever they would need."

"It's kind of all on an individual basis," Patricia said. "Different people need different things."

Coping with an injury or death caused by a drunk driver usually starts with the victim witness coordinators in the area district attorneys' offices.

Envelopes with MADD contacts and information are distributed to victims, but the coordinators cannot outwardly promote using MADD, said Evelyn Schulz, victim witness coordinator for Walworth County.

"It's office policy because it's a private group," said Schulz, who personally believes MADD promotes a worthwhile cause. "We shouldn't be telling people what they should or shouldn't do, but we can give them a referral to MADD."

It's just up to the victims to look up the number and make the call, Schulz said.

"It's very individual," Schulz said of how people use and need a support group. "Some need the support of someone who has been through it. (Victims) can talk to me, but I couldn't relate to their experience like (MADD) could."

Walworth County District Attorney Phil Koss said MADD has been an important ally for his office.

"I think MADD is probably the single-most factor that has raised the consciousness of the public on drunk driving," Koss said.

MADD services to victims are free, Patricia Collins said. Sometimes talking about the pain and suffering with MADD advocates can evolve to speaking at Victim Impact Panels, where victims talk to drunk driving offenders about the hurt such crimes have caused.

"It's been proven clinically that it's quite a healing mechanism for people who are telling these stories," Patricia said. "There's the people on the panel who are victims of drunk driving crashes.

"It's not that they're persecuting (offenders). It's that more often than not they're trying to get them to see how much pain they're in. Do you really want to do this to your child, your wife, your parents? At that time, offenders are greatly touched."

Need help?
For more information about available MADD services in Rock, Walworth and Racine counties, contact victim advocates Patrick and Patricia Collins by calling (262) 736-6233 or e-mailing madd@hughes.net. The national 24-hour MADD helpline is (877) MADD-HELP.

Alcohol-related crashes in 2005
Rock County 15 fatalities, 200 injuries
Walworth County 15 fatalities, 128 injuries
Racine County nine fatalities, 203 injuries
Statewide 330 fatalities, 5,992 injuries, 8,768 crashes
(Source: Wisconsin Department of Transportation)

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