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This is the first story in a series about drinking and driving. This story focuses on the victims of drinking and driving accidents.
On July 14, 2009, Shelly Gribbins was 32 weeks pregnant and extremely anxious to soon meet her baby girl.
Already the proud mother of a little boy, Dakota, Shelly just couldn’t wait to have a little girl of her own.
With only a few weeks left in her pregnancy, she and her mother, Janice Gribbins, were out running some errands in Lebanon. As Shelly made her way through the stoplight on US 68 near the Salem Shell gas station, she was hit, head-on.
“Before I could do anything, she was over in my lane and she hit us so hard,” Shelly said. “I didn’t know what to do. I was so scared. I just screamed.”
After the crash, Shelly was terrified for her baby, but when the ambulance arrived, Shelly said she felt her baby move once.
“When I felt her move, I thought everything was OK,” Shelly said.
After being transported to Spring View Hospital, they learned that Shelly’s mother had suffered some internal injuries, and she herself had a broken collar bone.
But her main concern was her baby.
Doctors were having difficulty finding the baby’s heart beat. They had to do an emergency Caesarean section, which is when they discovered she had been separated from Shelly’s placenta during the crash. She was immediately rushed to Kosair Hospital and she began having seizures, which were the result of her being without oxygen for at least 30 minutes after she became separated from the placenta.
She only lived for 25 hours until her family made the decision to take her off of life support. Before they did, Shelly’s five-year-old son, Dakota, got to hold his baby sister - Raelyn Michelle “Skeeter” Gribbins – for the first and final time. She was in her parents’ arms when she took her last breath.
“That was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make in my life,” Shelly said. “I couldn’t believe I had just lost a child. It’s something no parent should have to go through.”
Shelly and her family buried Raelyn on July 18, and then on July 20, the driver who hit her head-on, Tabitha K. Hutchison of Lebanon, was indicted in Marion Circuit Court on charges of murder, two counts of first-degree assault, DUI and other charges. It was her second DUI within a five-year period, and she was driving with a suspended license and didn't have required liability insurance.
“I was so angry,” Shelly said. “I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I didn’t want to be around anybody. It shouldn’t have happened. She should have never gotten behind the wheel.”
According to court documents, Hutchinson tested positive for butalbital, hydrocodone and tramadol in the aftermath of the accident.
For the next year and a half, Shelly would spend a great deal of her time in court. She hated every minute of it, and didn’t understand why it took so long to convict a woman who had killed her child.
“I felt like they had all the information they needed,” Shelly said. “Point blank, there was a DUI driver who injured me, my mother and killed my daughter. What other information do you need?”
Shelly said it felt like the court system was taking the defendant’s side.
“They kept delaying it,” Shelly said. “Why keep delaying it? Why can’t this be a done deal?”
Shelly said she was never given the opportunity to speak in court, but she did write the judge a letter to express how she felt and her opinion on the case. However, it was never acknowledged in court.
Unfortunately, Shelly suffered more heartache on April 26, 2010, when she gave birth to a little girl, Addilyn, who died soon after delivery.
The stress of losing another child in addition to the lengthy court process was almost too much for Shelly to handle. But, in January of 2011, Hutchinson was finally sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter, first-degree assault (two counts), DUI second offense, operating on a suspended/revoked license and failure to provide proof of insurance.
However, 15 years in prison isn’t nearly enough of a punishment, according to Shelly.
“I bet if she was out here growing marijuana, she would get life in prison,” she said. “She might be out of jail in 11 to 12 years after killing my daughter. She’s going to get to spend the rest of her life with her family, but I don’t get to spend the rest of my life with my daughter.”
Hutchinson was given the opportunity to apologize to Shelly and her family in court, but she declined.
“To this day, it’s still a shock to me. I still can’t believe it happened,” Shelly said.
Fortunately, after experiencing such heartache, Shelly gave birth to a healthy baby girl – Addison Rae Gribbins - on July 20 of this year. She said Addison Rae has helped her cope with the loss of her two daughters, and she actually reminds her a lot of Raelyn.
“I feel like Raelyn sent her to me,” Shelly said.
The entire experience has changed Shelly’s perception on drinking and driving.
“I am guilty of doing it,” she said. “And I hate to say it this way, but it took that to wake me up.”
Shelly said she would never consider drinking and driving ever again, and she shares that with other people, especially those that decide to drink and then get behind the wheel.
“I lost a part of me because of a drunk driver four years ago,” Shelly said. “I never thought it would happen to me. It just woke me up. It’s not worth it.”
“These aren’t accidents. These are DUI homicides.”
On the afternoon of Jan. 24, 2012, Carrie Mann and her mother, Fern Cooley, both of Lebanon, were coming home from Bardstown on Springfield Highway. Mann remembers it being sunny and an unusually warm day for January.
“It was just a really nice day out,” Mann said.
But, at 3:52 p.m., a pleasant drive home turned into a nightmare when Mann and her mother were hit head-on by another vehicle.
“All at once there was a car in our lane,” Mann said. “Mom tried to get over in the gravel but there wasn’t enough time to do anything. She hit us head on.
I’ve never been in a wreck like that.”
According to the Kentucky State Police, Judith Filiatreau of Springfield was driving north on Hwy. 55 in a 1991 Oldsmobile when she crossed the center line and struck a southbound 1995 Chevy truck, being driven by William R. Bishop of Campbellsville. Filiatreau then re-entered the northbound lane, striking a 1998 Cavalier being driven by Cooley.
Fortunately, everyone involved in the crash were wearing seatbelts, and no one seriously injured.
“When I finally got my seat belt off and got over to mom she whispered that she couldn’t breathe,” Mann said. “We were trapped in the car for more than 20 minutes.”
After they were safely removed from the vehicle and transported to Spring View Hospital, Cooley was complaining that one of her ribs was hurting, which was later determined to be a cartilage injury. A grapefruit-size hematoma formed in Mann’s left breast after the crash, and the lymph nodes in her left breast had also ruptured. Bishop was not injured. However, Filiatreau did suffer some minor injuries and was cited to court for driving under the influence.
In March, Mann had surgery to remove the hematoma and ruptured lymph nodes in her breast. Shortly thereafter, she testified in front of a Washington County grand jury in April of 2012. Filiatreau was charged with two counts of first-degree assault, one count of first-degree wanton endangerment and DUI second offense. According to the indictment, the DUI was the “second or subsequent offense within a five-year period” for Filiatreau. (An indictment by a grand jury is an accusation only and that person is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.)
The long court process has been and continues to be frustrating for Mann and her mother. (Another pretrial conference is scheduled for September.)
“Nineteen months this has been dragging on,” she said. “We have no end in sight.”
Mann said she feels re-victimized every time she goes to court.
“It’s our first experience with the justice system, and the court seems more concerned for the defendant than they do the victim,” Mann said. “I’ve lost faith in the whole system.”
Mann said she believes DUI cases are treated as “commonplace” and they are accepted here, which angers her.
“They call them DUI accidents… these aren’t accidents,” Mann said. “These are DUI homicides.”
Since the crash, Mann said she has experienced a great deal of physical and emotional pain. Her surgery left her with a permanent, obvious scar. And she must go get mammograms and ultrasounds every six months, she said, because of the lymph node damage, which could cause an increased risk for breast cancer.
“It’s made me very self-conscious around my husband, and I’ve been married for 22 years,” Mann said. “For me, it’s a constant reminder.”
M.A.D.D. – Advocating for the victims…
Mimi Crum has been supporting the victims of drunk driving since she organized the Marion County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) in 1990.
When she moved here from Ashland in 1988, she quickly learned of Marion County’s reputation with drinking and driving and she wanted to be proactive and do something to help. She also had a friend who had lost a grandchild in a drunk driving crash.
Since she started M.A.D.D. in Marion County, she’s volunteered as a victim’s advocate, and helps victims of drunk driving accidents in a variety of ways.
During the past 23 years, Crum has seen more awareness regarding the dangers of drinking and driving, especially among our youth, but the community still has a long way to go, she said.
“The words ‘designated driver’ I used to never hear that,” Crum said. “But I hear it all the time now. There is an increasing awareness that it is wrong, that it’s a crime and it’s preventable.”
One effective tool in decreasing the number of alcohol-related crashes and deaths is the mandatory installation of ignition interlocks for every convicted drunk driving offender. An ignition interlock is a device about the size of a cell phone that is wired into the ignition system of a vehicle. A convicted drunk driver must blow into the device in order to start their vehicle. Several states have made that law, including Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico and Louisiana.
“The technology is out there, and we should be using it,” Crum said.
Crum admits that she also gets very frustrated with the amount of time it takes to convict a drunk driver. As an advocate for the victims, she sees, firsthand, that every appearance can be very traumatic for them.
“It seems to take forever to wrap these cases up and to have some closure, especially for these victims,” Crum said. “These cases drag out two or three years. A lot of times they feel re-victimized again.”
However, no matter how frustrating it might get, Crum continues to do what she can to support the victims.
“The victims give me strength,” she said.
DUI ARRESTS IN MARION COUNTY
Marion County Sheriff’s Department
2009: 6 DUI arrests
2010: 14 DUI arrests
2011: 22 DUI arrests
2012: 33 DUI arrests
* 2013: 20 DUI arrests
Lebanon Police Department
2008 - 43
2009 – 132
2010 – 115
2011 – 117
2012 – 146
* 2013 - 110
* As of Aug. 30, 2013
* To report a drunk driver to the Kentucky State Police, call 1-800-222-5555.