On Dec. 13, we had the privilege to address more than 150 peace officers at the kickoff for the Avoid the 21 Campaign. We were at the kickoff to represent Mothers Against Drunk Driving and our son Scott Leister, who was killed in a fiery crash by a drunken driver going over 100 mph while on the Bay Bridge.
Avoid the 21 is composed of the 21 different law enforcement agencies in Alameda County that are so very committed to protecting us from drunk drivers.
These 21 police agencies coordinate together to run DUI checkpoints and focused enforcement against drunk drivers. The program is called Avoid the 21 because drivers can "avoid" being arrested by planning for safe, sober rides before they start drinking so they never drink and then drive.
Other Bay Area counties have similar programs.
Unfortunately, on that very Friday morning before our speech, I read of two DUI crashes that claimed the lives of two more innocent people.
I can assure you that the parents and the families of those victims are, at this very moment, experiencing unbelievable agony, worse than they have ever experienced. And I can assure you that your local peace officer's involvement in the Avoid the 21 Task Force is absolutely critical in preventing other families from going through the hell these families and our family continue to go through.
What do you think those families would have given to have had that drunken driver pass through one of the Avoid the 21 checkpoints? Or to have had that driver pulled over for erratic driving while they were on patrol? I know I would have given anything, including my own life.
I was surprised to learn from other speakers at the event that during many DUI arrests, the peace officer takes verbal abuse from the drunken driver, as if they are doing something terrible to that person.
I suggest the arrest could be preventing him from having to live for the rest of his life with the horrible knowledge that he killed innocent people, as well as helping prevent financial ruin.
Or, as in our case, saving him from a sentence of 10 years in prison and having a strike on his record.
No matter which side of the steering wheel you are on, there are no winners when it comes to DUIs, just sad stories, filled with misery. Programs like Avoid the 21 cannot lessen the misery and pain of these stories, but it can reduce the number of these stories.
Indeed, I understand that as of Sunday morning, more than 80 DUI arrests were made in Alameda County. We will never know how many lives were saved by these arrests, but saving even one family from experiencing what we have gone through is well worth the effort.
Whether you are a peace officer or a designated driver, on behalf of Scott and our family, as well as our MADD family and all the families in our communities who you save from the nightmare of losing a loved one to a drunken driver, thank you. We are grateful to each one of you who fights this battle with us.
Chris and Carol Leister are residents of Castro Valley.