News Column

Stories of lives robbed of their futures presented at conference

May 23, 2014

By Cody Neff, The Register-Herald, Beckley, W.Va.



May 23--One of the original news articles for the crash said it was like seeing scenes from a war zone. Margaret Walker lives with the results of the crash every day.

"A man named Brian Strobridge is driving a dump truck," Mothers Against Drunk Driving volunteer Walker said. "He's high on cocaine and he's left-of-center. He crashed into Maria Frances Rao and killed her. A second car was side-swiped.

"The third car was my son. I looked forward to seeing my son get older. Everything was taken from me. The good and the bad of the future with my son was taken."

Walker, from Kearneysville, W.Va., travels around the country sharing her story with students and law enforcement. Thursday, she was sharing with officers at the Highway2Enforcement Conference. Walker says her story is an example of how you should help victims in a tragedy.

"One day after graduation, I get a call from the police and they ask if I'm Margaret Walker and what my address is," she said. "I now have to wait on the police to get to my house.

"In that waiting, I have to try and figure out what he did wrong. Did he steal something? Did he get into a fight? Then I realized that something must have happened."

Walker says she knew something must have happened because her son had shown that he had a good head on his shoulders.

"Terry was 17 and a senior in high school," she said. "He did something that has given me a challenge to share with everyone to do what he did. He was going to prom. After prom is the after-party. My son was telling me that he was going to the after-party. The kids came to the house and I'm giving him the rules.

"He left and went to prom. He comes home early with this beautiful girl. He said he had a gut feeling. The kids were talking about doing drugs and drinking. He had a feeling the party would get busted up. The next day, he found out the party had been busted up by the police and several kids got in trouble.

"My son paid attention to his gut. I encourage young people to listen to our gut feeling. God is giving us a guide of decisions to make."

Walker says, looking back, she appreciates what the two officers who showed up let her do.

"The officers had to tell me the worst thing that a mother could ever hear, that her child is dead," she said. "The officers let me and my husband lose it. We just screamed and kept screaming. We weren't screaming at the officers. We were screaming out of pain.

"The officer let us have time to lose it and scream before he said, 'Mrs. Walker, I need to get in my cruiser.' I wasn't going to see my son graduate or play ball. I wasn't even going to the hospital to help the doctor with some information. I would have rather gone to jail. I mean that. In jail, my child would be alive. I was taken to the morgue and had to look at my son lying on a cold slab."

Walker said she later found out everything that happened at the crash.

"Julie Levy was injured," she said. "Dawn Harder was traumatized. Peter Reiff was a trained EMT. He stopped me in court, with tears in his eyes, 'I tried. I did what I could. I tried to help, but there was nothing I could do.' He almost died himself.

"One teacher at an event told me that Peter Reiff was her ex-husband. He quit his job and they divorced after the crash. He wasn't the same person anymore. That's part of the ripple effect from this crash."

One of the hardest things about the crash was finding out that Brian Strobridge had gotten away with driving under the influence before, Walker said.

"He had friends and had a relationship with the police department," she said. "They got a little soft with him and kept letting him get away with DUI. The best thing we can do is do what we need to do. Let that person know they have a problem.

"I was a magistrate for five years. I heard many times that an officer let a DUI offender go because it was at the end of a shift. I want to go home too, but you shouldn't let someone go just because you want to go home.

"Brian Strobridge kept getting away with it. Brian Strobridge had hit a car two weeks before this crash. I'm not saying it's the officer's fault, but we should consider telling someone they have a problem and get them help."

Walker said she doesn't see herself as a victim and she doesn't want to be called a victim. Sharing her story is her therapy, she says.

"My son I thought had a purpose," she said. "We look forward to our sons and daughters to be successful. We look forward to our children's purpose. When that officer came to my door and told me I was no longer a mother, that stripped me of purpose.

"This gave me a new purpose. Sharing this story, as painful as it is, gives me purpose. If I can help save one life. If I can change the heart of one person, then my son's life and his death mattered."

-- E-mail: cneff@register-herald.com

Walker's tips for accident victims

Margaret Walker gives tips to officers when she tells the story of losing her only son. She says she hopes she can help change people's minds about how to help victims. Her tips are:

- Never deliver news by phone.

- It's best to give the news face-to-face.

- Go in twos so you can accompany each other.

- Hearing about the loss of a child is devastating, so be prepared for anything.

- Have empathy.

- Be patient.

- Speak with victims realistically and truthfully.

- Validate their feelings.

- Don't overstate your empathy and say things like, "I know how you feel."

- Don't deny someone's emotions by saying "Don't cry."

- Don't push recovery and say, "You've got to move on now."

___

(c)2014 The Register-Herald (Beckley, W.Va.)

Visit The Register-Herald (Beckley, W.Va.) at www.register-herald.com

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Source: Register-Herald (Beckley, WV)


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