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Survivors find support with local MADD program

Prineville's new Mothers Against Drunk Drivers chapter is leading the way toward helping survivors and making inroads into preventing senseless tragedies involving DUII's in this community
In Crook County the drive to decrease the incidence of senseless vehicular accidents involving alcohol and other intoxicants is making progress with the help of the local Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (M.A.D.D.) chapter.
   Led by Prineville's Sandi Vachter, the organization is taking strides to involve community volunteers in a number of areas including Victim Assistance, DUII (Driving Under The Influence Of Intoxicants) Survivor Support and Legal Advocacy.
   Vachter took on the role as M.A.D.D. coordinator a little over a year ago as a result of personally experiencing a devastating accident involving a chemically impaired driver. Like many M.A.D.D. volunteers, Vachter's experiences on the receiving end not only gives her unique insights into the trials faced by victims, but also makes her a powerful advocate for those in similar circumstances.
   As a national organization, M.A.D.D. is a nonprofit grass roots effort to address drunk driving with more than 600 chapters nationwide. Their goal is not to crusade against alcohol consumption, but to look for effective solutions to the drunk and/or chemically impaired driving (driving under the influence of illegal drugs) and underage drinking problems, while supporting those who have already experienced the pain of these crimes.
   The well-told story of M.A.D.D.'s founding stems from a small group of California women who launched the organization in 1980 after a 13-year-old-girl was killed by a hit-and-run driver. The driver had been out of jail on bail for only two days for another hit-and-run drunk driving crash and had three previous drunk driving arrests and two convictions. He was allowed to plea bargain to vehicular manslaughter.
   In Crook County, M.A.D.D. is striving to continue the effort set forth by its founders. Their initial effort launched the Victim's Impact Panel, where survivors of DUII incidents help to educate offenders to the consequences of their actions.
    The Impact Panel meets bimonthly at the county library and is co-coordinated by the District Attorney's Victims Assistance Program. Vachter indicated that this aspect of the program will soon include a youth impact panel aimed at younger offenders.
   "So far we've just had adult DUII offenders. Our goal is to get juvenile offenders with MIP's (Minors in Possession) involved in the process," she said. "But we still have some coordinating to do between the juvenile department and the court in order to get that aspect of the program implemented with mandates to the offenders."
   She added that the impact panel is open to anyone who would like to attend. Parents of juvenile drivers would find the program particularly informative and might consider bringing their child along with them for a session. "It can serve as a reality check for young drivers and an incentive to drive more carefully," she said. The next panel will convene at the community room of the county library on May 9 beginning at 7 p.m.
   Another element of the local chapter under development is the court monitoring program. Court monitoring is seen by the national M.A.D.D. as a vital link in their mission to end tragedies caused by substance-impaired driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, court monitoring of DUII cases by volunteer citizen groups can be effective in increasing the likelihood of convictions, decreasing the likelihood of dismissals and, in repeat offenders cases, increasing the length of jail sentences.
   Vachter indicated that the real success behind court monitoring hinges on the volunteers who donate their time and energy to gathering statistics.
   Court monitors come from all walks of life, from student to senior citizen and generally, they are not legal experts. In fact, many court monitors have never set foot in a courtroom prior to working with M.A.D.D.
   With the help of comprehensive training, an instruction manual, and on-the-job experience, these everyday citizens soon become well versed in Oregon's DUII laws and criminal justice procedure.
   "Volunteers sit in the court for the few days of the trial and for the sentencing to gather the stats for each particular case," she explained. "After a year of keeping track of statistics we can compile all information gathered by the volunteers and present our findings to the County to see what the correlations are. This will hopefully give us some idea of what we want to do in the future to make things better."
   Rounding out the volunteer based M.A.D.D. programs is the DUII Survivor Support Group and Advocacy elements.
   Beginning Thursday, May 24 from 7 to 8:30 p.m Vachter will be offering survivors and victims of accidents involving substance abuse a chance to get together in a supportive atmosphere, to share experiences, vent feelings and learn about resources they might not be aware of otherwise.
   "Many times people who have gone through this kind of trauma suffer tremendous loss," Vachter explained. "Sometimes they can't work because of an injury or the medical bills are overwhelming and consequently they loose their home and property and eventually exhaust all of their resources. Sometimes they can't get past the grief of losing a loved one or suffering a debilitating injury and they need to be with others who have had that same experience."
   The support group will take place at the public library in the Juniper Room and is open to anyone whose life has been affected by a DUII incident.
    Under M.A.D.D., Volunteer Advocates will pick up where other services leave off, helping to guide victims through the legal system and offering emotional support when needed. Many of the advocate volunteers are survivors of DUII incidents themselves.
   For anyone interested in becoming a M.A.D.D. volunteer, Vachter will be offering a comprehensive volunteer training for all aspects of the local Mothers Against Drunk Drivers program.
   The first training will be held on Thursday, May 24 at the Juniper Room of Crook County Library from 9 to 11 a.m. Subsequent trainings will be announced at a later date.
   To learn more about the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, to sign up for the volunteer training or the DUII Survivors Support Group call Sandi Vachter at 416-8047.