TAMPA (FOX 13) - The pain of losing a loved one to drunk driving was a share sentiment among nearly 900 walkers at the annual "Walk Like MADD" 5K held Friday night at the University of South Florida.
Among the victims being recognized, the event was dedicated in honor of Hillsborough County Deputy John Kotfila, who was killed on March 12 when he put his vehicle in the path of a drunk driver going the wrong way down the Crosstown Expressway.
"Hopefully there is a light at the end of the tunnel where the hurt will go away," said Bobby Cahoon Jr, Kotfila's Uncle.
Cahoon said 28 years working as a corporal with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office could not prepare him for the pain of losing his nephew.
"This is the first time that something this tragic has happened so close to my family, and I didn't realize that [drunk driving] was such a large problem," said Cahoon.
"It's hard to get back to normal, and I haven't gotten back to normal yet. I really don't know when I will," said Bobby Cahoon Sr, Kotfila's grandfather, who wore a shirt and ribbon honoring his grandson.
More than $68,000 was raised through the "Walk Like MADD" event. MADD organizers said the funds will help them provide victim services, underage drinking prevention programs and continue the Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving within the West Central Florida affiliate.
Walk like MADD organizers said the event has three main components:
- Remember: We walk for those who no longer can and alongside those who are learning to walk again.
- Inspire: We walk empowered even when we feel powerless, as survivors when we have been victimized, and with purpose when we have lost our way.
- Commit: We walk with supporters who share our vision of no more drunk driving victims.
"We're going to help each other, and we're going to help this community rid the drunk drivers. Get them off the streets," said Linda Unfried, who found the Hillsborough County chapter of MADD after losing her sister to a drunk driver.
Organizers said the event's timing is significant because it took place at a time when law enforcement, community partners and coalition partners are coming together to find real solutions to wrong-way drunk driving.
They added, despite a nearly 50-percent decline in drunk driving deaths since MADD was founded in 1980, almost 10,000 people are killed by drunk drivers and another 290,000 are injured in drunk driving crashes every year. Two in three people will be involved in a drunk driving crash in their lifetime, they said.