By Reggie Ellis
Thirteen months after Casey Goodwin was killed in a collision with a drunk driver, her family saw her mangled car for the first time on May 28.
"It was worse than I imagined," said Lynne Goodwin, Casey's mother. "The crash was so violent. Sometimes you wonder if they did everything they could to save someone's life. After seeing the car, it was a miracle her heart was still beating."
The car is the focal point of a mobile anti-drinking and driving exhibit that the Fresno Police Department unveiled at a press conference on June 1 at Fresno City Hall. Bolted down inside a 30-foot trailer, Casey's crumpled 1998 Honda Civic can be seen through four large plexiglass windows on the sides of the trailer.
Lt. Andy Hall, who overseas 70 officers in FPD's traffic bureau which handles most DUI cases, said he hopes the exhibit will be a powerful deterrent to drinking and driving.
"Hopefully the shock value will register and they will make a mental note that will convince them not to get in the car or behind the wheel in dangerous situations," Hall said.
Hall said the $50,000 trailer - which is worth closer to $100,000 with in kind services and donated materials - is only the third of its kind in the nation and the first to house an innocent victim's car instead of the vehicle of the DUI offender. He said the department wanted the trailer to honor Casey in a respectful manner. The trailer also includes two large televisions in the front and back and four smaller TVs on the side, which continuously play an eight-minute video montage of Casey's life. The entire trailer was donated to the Central Valley chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
"It helps put a face with the crime," Goodwin said. "I think it will have an effect because it gives people the opportunity to look at drinking and driving from a different perspective. I hope people are very moved by it."
Hall said he got the idea for the project after seeing the effects another MADD trailer had in Fresno during an anti-drinking and driving campaign in March 2003 - just days before Casey was killed. He said a mother began talking about the dangers of drinking and driving with her daughters, who were about 11 and 13 years old. Hall said he observed their conversation and realized the importance of reaching kids before high school. It was a scene repeated throughout the day with other parents and their children. Statistically, children begin consuming alcohol between the ages of 11 and 12. Eighty-eight percent of those 12-20 years old that consume alcohol are binge drinkers.
"We have to get to the kids really early if we want to change this thing," Hall said. "We want parents to let their kids know they can always call for someone to pick them up."
Casey was killed by a drunk driver on March 12, 2003. While on her way home from Cuesta College to celebrate her mother's birthday, Fernando Ochoa, 18, of Stratford, swerved into her lane and hit Casey's car head on. Ochoa had been drinking and was traveling at least 90 mph because he was late to work at a fast food establishment in Kettleman City. Ochoa's blood alcohol content was 0.19, more than twice the legal limit of .08. Casey was airlifted to University Medical Center in Fresno where she died from her injuries the following day.
Hall said MADD contacted the Goodwins on March 26 to ask if the family would donate the vehicle. "The victim's vehicle is much more difficult to secure than the suspect's vehicle," he said. After securing the car, Hall said the decision was also made not to accept any public money for the project, but to make it a genuine community effort.
"We figured if we couldn't get the community to support this then change wouldn't occur."
More than 300 towing companies, police officers, officer associations, body shops and non-profit organizations from Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Madera counties came together to help raise the money and donate services, materials and labor. The project was completely funded by donations.
"This is the first time the Valley as a community has said, 'We have a problem,'" Goodwin said. "Now we can finally start moving forward. We need all the help we can get in this community."
The problem, Hall said, is that 41 percent of all fatal crashes are DUIs. In 2003, 17,419 people were killed in alcohol related crashes, an average of one death every 30 minutes. There were 46 fatal collisions in Fresno alone. Drunk driving is the most frequently committed violent crime in the United States. In 2002, motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death for people 2 to 33 years old.
While current statistics show that the problem is slowly improving, Goodwin said America's attitude about alcohol, not just drinking and driving, needs to change.
"The problem is the way we uphold alcohol in our society," Goodwin said. "We use it as a coping mechanism for depression, even though it is a depressant, and as a way to celebrate."
Goodwin said the trailer will travel from Tulare to Merced to high schools, anti-drinking and driving campaigns, DUI checkpoints and conventions. The $8,000 sound system includes a public announcement microphone that allows the trailer, and Casey's car, to be used as a backdrop for high school rallies. While attending EUHS, Casey was an avid anti-drinking and driving advocate, volunteering countless hours for Friday Night Live, SoberGrad and many other community outreach programs.
"I hope nobody has to ever see their child's car like this," Goodwin said. "I don't wish this on anyone. It is shocking but I think this will positively benefit the entire Valley."