After being hit by a drunk driver in 2011, Amy Ashlyn needed help getting out of her Jeep Cherokee. (Courtesy Photo)
It’s 6:30 p.m. on the 18th of December. It’s already dark. Going a steady 55 mph, the headlights come out of nowhere. There is nothing Amy Ashlyn can do.
Shattering glass echoes from broken windows as two vehicles collide, first ramming the front, then, the sides before her Jeep Cherokee slides 40 feet off the highway.
She is trapped. With her right thigh broken and two breaks in her left arm, Ashlyn cannot move at all. Strangers are the first on the scene to see if she is all right, at which point she panics about the two little dogs in her back seat.
“The scariest part is that the side of my car hit the side of his car … and when the windows broke, I could hear the four children in his back seat scream,” Ashlyn said.
She was in the accident in 2011, just a week before Christmas. It could have been avoided.
The man in the other vehicle was driving drunk.
As the holiday season begins, so do the parties and, in many cases, the drinking. Unfortunately, too many situations such as Ashlyn’s happen because people attempt to drive while under the influence.
To help catch DUI cases and hopefully reduce the number of alcohol related accidents, New Mexico will be having its annual Holiday Super Blitz: a series of checkpoints to help get drunk drivers off the streets.
Although Ashlyn doesn’t see herself as a victim, being hit that night changed her life.
She remembers the crash and that night, but most of the Christmas season was a blur that year.
“I was in the deepest of deep pits,” she said.
From Dec. 19 until around April, she was on painkillers that affected her psychologically and did not help with her depression.
“I woke up one day, crying,” she explained, choking on emotions as she re-lived the experience.
“I didn’t want to go to work. I just wanted to crawl under the covers and cry and cry and cry. And I realized that wasn’t me.” So she stopped taking the pills.
As an elementary school teacher, and now a P.E. coach, the hardest part about going back to school nearly two months later was the physical aspect.
But even with a weaker left arm and a permanent plate, the physical changes were not the only effects of the accident.
She now has more fear.
“When the dust settled, I could smell radiator fluid. And I thought, ‘I hope this car doesn’t catch on fire and blow up,’” she recalled. That was only the first fear.
As someone who used to be adventurous and “not afraid of a lot,” she said she is now “afraid to fall.”
“I think it’s insane,” she said sadly. “Now … I’m not so game. I lost a lot of my adventure, which is a part of my spirit.”
She thanks God that the accident wasn’t worse, but Ashlyn still lives with the effects of something that never should have happened.
“He didn’t have to,” she said, referring to the driver. His mother, also in the car, could have driven, she said.
So to help prevent further accidents like Ashlyn’s, law enforcement in cooperation with the Chaves County Drinking While Intoxicated Prevention Department will be stopping every car with the hopes of dissuading people from drinking while behind the wheel.
“We’re out and we’re visible,” explained Lt. Javier Moncada with the New Mexico State Police. He’s hoping the presence of more police officers will influence people to remain at home or get a taxi while drinking.
“Our main goal is to reduce DWI related crashes and fatalities related to alcohol,” he said.
He pointed out that accidents caused by alcohol effect many people: law enforcement, families and the community — especially in smaller, close-knit communities.
“I myself hate going to a crash involving children,” Moncada said. “Because I have small children it effects me where I’m thinking, ‘that could have been my kids.’”
Even after the investigations are complete, those police officers still take home what they’ve seen. It remains in their minds, Moncada elaborated.
The Blitz roadblocks will be focused in areas that seem to have high fatality and crash statistics. In fact, a lot of the Blitz details all come back to statistics. It is these stats that emphasize the importance of the Blitz happening in Roswell, stated Charlotte Andrade, the Chaves County DWI coordinator.
According to data Andrade collected, Chaves County is ranked fourth out of 33 counties for the number of juvenile males with DUI and minor in possession charges.
Furthermore, the 2011 NM Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey (YRRS) states that Chaves County youth is at 43.4 percent for those in high school who use alcohol. That’s more than the 36.9 percent of New Mexico youth overall.
So besides having a presence in the community, DWI prevention programs are trying to spread awareness to youth.
“We’re trying to emphasize that it takes all of us to prevent tragedies,” Andrade said. “If we can prevent one tragedy — an accident or death — then we’ve done our job.”
The Blitz started Nov. 15 and will continue through Jan. 5. It consists of police officers setting up different checkpoints to catch drunk drivers.
Mainly set up in the evenings, these checkpoints will change location from night to night. There will also be a strong target on catching those not wearing seatbelts, Moncada said.
The biggest job, however, takes everyone in the community: It is a group effort to stop drunk and distracted drivers by being proactive.
Hosts at parties should be aware of their guests and who is drinking and who is driving.
“Those of us who don’t need to watch those who do,” Ashlyn advised.
Moncada and Andrade agreed.
“During the holiday season, people do drink more than usual,” Andrade said. “Be aware of your surroundings and of other drivers.”