DUI victim impact panel shares stories of loss

- Nearly 200 people filled a room at the Falkenburg Road Jail Monday night.  It, unfortunately, was not their first time at a jail. They'd all been arrested for DUI.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Hillsborough County hosted its Victim Impact Panel, hoping their stories would change hearts and minds, and most importantly, save lives.

"Pease don't be the cause of someone else's grief, don't destroy someone else's dreams or your dreams," said Hillsborough MADD co-founder Linda Unfried.

Unfried, who lost her sister Josie Distefano Palomino to a drunk driver in 1983, shared her story first.

"Your arrest, your fine, maybe the loss of your drivers license is nothing compared to the cost of hospital bills and funeral expenses," Unfried said.

Throughout the night, the crowd stared at the names and faces of people killed. They heard gut-wrenching stories of white sheets covering bodies and brown paper bags filled with victims' belongings.

One particular story of a drunk driving crash is still too fresh. Hillsborough County Deputy John Kotfila Jr was killed just over a week ago on the Leroy Selmon Expressway.

The wrong-way driver, Erik McBeth, was also killed. Monday, investigators revealed he was three times over the legal limit.

"It's been a really emotional day finding out that the offender that killed the deputy had 0.27," said Unfried, who formerly worked at HCSO. "It's very very emotional and then seeing all these people and them not realizing they could kill someone, and I think that is what really nags at me the most is that people don't realize they can take life."

The message hit home. Some were left in tears. Others had to step out. The goal is for them to never step foot back in that room again.

"I am just lucky I didn't hurt anybody, that I am still here today and the last thing I want is for anybody taking my children away from a poor decision," said Nickolette Nelson, who was arrested for DUI.

These were people from all walks of life -- young, old, businesspeople, veterans. They all, unfortunately, have one thing in common.

"It's never one, it'll never be one," said Grant Burke who was arrested for DUI. "It's the slipperiest slope you could ever be on. Just don't do it, that's all I can say."

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