The Value of Victim Impact Panels
By John Thatcher
Debora Auman was in a tragic period of her life. Her parents had recently died, she was the victim of a rape and she had just broken up with her domestic partner. As a result, she had started drinking more heavily and on June 7, 2012, was driving drunk when she struck and killed a pedestrian, Alvin Wilson, as he was walking to work. The accident was a tragedy with Wilson’s body discovered 74 feet away from the impact, who died from injuries on the highway.
An attorney on the case estimated that Auman’s blood alcohol content at the time of the collision was .11, as her alcohol content more than two hours later was .08, the legal limit in Virginia.
Auman was sentenced to one year of home electronic monitoring and her drivers license was revoked. She was credited for the 21/2 months she had spent in jail waiting for the sentencing, and is allowed to work, a very lenient sentence given that the victim had been killed. In defending his position, the judge said multiple factors influenced his sentence including Auman’s work record, lack of criminal history and her multiple sclerosis which would cost taxpayers $60,000 per year to pay for her medication.
Auman showed total remorse for her actions, saying that what she did tortures her everyday, and she apologized to the family of the victim before her sentencing. The victim’s family was touched by Auman’s tale of her own tragedy, and the story surely influenced the judge’s sentencing.
So if the story was so powerful, why was participation in a victim impact panel not included in Auman’s sentence? Auman would have been able to have a powerful impact on other DUI offenders who perhaps didn’t understand the seriousness of their offense because there had been no victim in their case.
Victim Impact Panels were created by Mothers Against Drunk Driving as an educational tool for convicted alcohol offenders to consider the pain and suffering drunk driving can cause to others. In this case, Auman’s story would also show the suffering and heartache a DUI can cause to the offender themselves. The goal of the panel is to also help break down a denial of a problem with alcoholism, create a lasting impression that offenders will remember before getting in the car again and hopefully to change behavior and save lives.
Not all offenders who participate in these panels are affected, but for some it is an emotional wakeup call that they never forget.
For victims, these panels also provide the chance to tell their story and get involved in the justice system. Many victims and victim’s families are also looking for a way to prevent other tragedies from happening, and these panels allow them to have a positive impact on offender’s through their message.
Linda Ekpe’s son, Daniel Ekpe, was killed by a drunk driver in New York. At a panel she said that it had been eight years since her son had been killed, and she still feels pain but hopes one day to share her story without shedding tears.
Just like defensive driving isn’t a cure-all for reckless drivers, neither are victim impact panels, but they can have a powerful effect for those offenders who are ready to listen and can hopefully help them to get started on the right track.
John Thatcher is a freelance writer for defensivedriving.com