Nearly three years after her daughter was struck and killed by a car driven by former legislative aide Gabrielle Nestande, Laurie Griffin examined a newly installed white cross Thursday. The small memorial site sits under a tree on Exposition Boulevard near Bridle Path in West Austin, a few feet away from the driveway where her Courtney Griffin’s body was found.
During the memorial cross dedication, various city, county and state officials shared words about the dangers of drinking and driving and laws that have passed to create harsher penalties for hit-and-runs. Griffin said that the cross will help her cope with her daughter’s death and will serve as a reminder to passersby of the deadly consequences of drinking.
“I will continue to lobby in and out of legislative session to prevent drinking and driving. It leads to unbelievably needless deaths,” Griffin said. “You don’t want that doorbell to ring with that news like I went through.”
Nestande, 26, was originally charged with intoxication manslaughter, manslaughter and failure to stop and render aid. She was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide in 2013 and sentenced to 10 years probation, six months of which were spent in jail, and completed drunken-driving classes, among other penalties.
While Griffin spoke about the loss of her daughter, at Austin police headquarters Belinda Lewandowski of Round Rock shared a close call that her son had with alcohol and drugs. On Jan. 29, 2011, her 19-year-old son Jaron was hospitalized after he had a near-toxic combination of drugs and alcohol. While intoxicated, he fell on a car, injuring his head.
“My story begins with that dreaded phone call that no parent wants to get,” said Lewandowski. “My heart was racing, my body was shaking. I was thinking, ‘Please God, not again.’” Her son had previously been hospitalized for binge drinking.
According to a poll by Mothers Against Drunk Driving released Thursday, 55 percent of teens say their peers’ drinking to get drunk motivates them to drink, but only 27 percent of parents realize that. The same survey also found that parents are the biggest influence to keep teens from drinking.
“We all have to have that open conversation with our children,” Lewandowski said about about the dangers of underage drinking. “When we arm them with this knowledge, this can make all the difference.”
April 21 is MADD’s PowerTalk 21 day, the day for parents to talk to their children about alcohol. Free webinars on how to talk to them will be available on its website at www.madd.org.