It’s been more than 15 years since Jackie Brown’s best friend Marja Harper-Holmes was killed by a drunk driver. Brown says she still thinks about her every day.
“We were closer than friends; we were sisters,” Brown said as she shared her story Thursday during an event hosted by SAFE Delaware, a local coalition aimed at making Delaware a safer place by highlighting and removing causes and actions that lead to crashes, injuries and fatalities.
The event’s goal was to discourage drunk driving during the St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
Brown, a civil protection order specialist at the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office, said she and Marja met in sixth grade when they got in a fight and were sent to the principal’s office together.
Brown said she and Marja were forced to hold hands on the way back to class and were inseparable after that. “We were two peas in a pod.”
Brown said in September 2001, she talked to Marja in the afternoon before Marja left to take her three-year-old son, Devin, to run an errand. Brown asked Marja to call her later after the errand, and assumed Marja had just gotten busy when she never heard back.
At 1:15 a.m. the next day Brown got a call from a friend of Marja’s husband informing her that Marja had been in a fatal crash in an Atlanta suburb. Brown said she was in shock and couldn’t even comprehend what “fatal” meant.
Brown said she soon learned the crash was caused when a drunk driver who was trying to elude police crashed into Marja’s vehicle. Marja, Devin and the driver were killed in the crash and resulting fire.
“I was extremely devastated,” Brown said. “It was senseless.”
Brown said she has thought about Marja every single day for the last 15 years and thought about all the things she didn’t get to share with Marja.
“[I think about it] everyday, because she wasn’t there for my wedding or the birth of my son,” Brown said.
Brown said today there are so many ways to avoid drunk driving.
“There are too many services that can pick you up instead of drinking and driving,” Brown said. “Make that decision to have someone pick you up.”
Brown said many establishments will gladly call a car or service for intoxicated patrons to avoid drunk driving.
“I’m not against people drinking,” Brown said. “I’m against people drinking and driving. I don’t have that person in my life. No one should have to go through the pain [Marja’s family and I] went through.”
Brown was joined at the event by Lt. Marcus Pirrone and Sgt. Geoffrey Freeman from the Delaware post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Pirrone said Delaware County had 24 traffic fatalities last year. Half of them were alcohol-related.
Pirrone said drunk driving can be found in every neighborhood and at any time of day. He said the patrol’s afternoon shift of 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. has written just as many OVI citations as the overnight shift.
“When people make a decision to drink and drive it’s not an accident, it’s a crash,” Pirrone said. Pirrone added that law enforcement will be patroling more during weekends like St. Patrick’s Day.
Pirrone said troopers will sometime give warnings for speeding but said firmly, “We’re not giving warnings for drunk driving.”
Freeman echoed that sentiment and said the worst part of his job is giving death notifications to families of people killed in preventable crashes like those caused by drunk drivers.
Jackie Bain the SAFE Delaware County Coordinator reported Thursday that the average DUI costs about $10,000 and often includes jail time, licenses suspension or revocations and higher insurance rates in addition to the obvious danger.
Brown concluded the event Thursday and said if telling Marja’s story could save one life it would be worth the pain of reliving that loss.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.
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