For the first time, publicly that is, I will share a story of a young girl who had her entire future ahead of her, until one tragic night.
I can remember the night like it was yesterday. I was 19 and it was three days before Christmas in 1996. I was at home with my parents when the page went out for a two-vehicle accident with injuries. I was not a member of the fire department or rescue squad in Dickeyville at that time; however my dad, Jerry Pitzen, a 35-year member of the Dickeyville-Paris Volunteer Fire Department, was.
As with any fire, accident or call for service for the fire department, I watched him as he hurriedly got ready and then watch him race out of the house as if it were his own family member involved. As I watched him leave and gravel fly, I ran upstairs to make sure he made it to the end of the driveway as for some reason speed limits on our private driveway were broken as he knew each call had a sense of urgency.
My mom and I continued to listen to the bits and pieces of radio chatter come across the scanner and we both knew it wasn't good. We prayed for the people involved in the accident and we prayed for the emergency responders that night; however, what we didn't know and wouldn't know until the next morning was who was in the accident.
After a couple hours, the scanner traffic died down and I went to bed, prior to my dad returning home. Even if he had returned home before I went to bed, he couldn't tell me any details of whom or what or how the accident occurred.
The next morning, I woke to help with chores and when I walked out of the house, my mom met me and she was crying and screaming the person involved in the accident had died. It was at that moment, I learned the fate of a friend who would no longer get to live out her dreams.
That friend left behind parents who undoubtedly had their lives changed from that moment on as well as a little sister who adored her. Her name, Jenny Walter and she was 20 years old when her life was ended.
The history behind our friendship is not unusual. During my years at Cuba City, my high school basketball coach was good friends with the head girls basketball coach at Potosi High School. Through their friendship, my friendship with Jenny and several others from Potosi began, whether it was attending basketball camps, varsity reserve games or regular season games.
I learned later that Jenny had been in Platteville purchasing Christmas gifts for her family and she was on her way to a friends house in Dickeyville. She was just 2 miles from arriving at her destination in Dickeyville when the accident happened just south of Clay Hollow Road.
My mom said my dad was white when he got home and he never spoke of the accident to her. When I made it to the barn that morning, my dad cried with me and hugged me and said he was sorry. Sorry, I imagine for the pain I was in and sorry for the fact he couldn't have done more to help her. But most of all, I feel he took her death extremely hard since Jenny was my age and he couldn't fathom losing one of his kids so tragically.
In the days that followed I couldn't wrap my head around how this could happen to someone so good. Jenny was a sophomore at UW-Platteville and on the softball team, with quite a promising future at shortstop. I couldn't understand why it had to be her and more than anything just wanted her back.
Her wake was on Christmas Day at the Potosi High School gymnasium and boy did I dread attending. Thankfully, my dad said he would go with me. I'm not sure to this day if he knew how to deal with a daughter who was grieving for a friend he didn't know that well.
What I do know is he stood by my side as we approached Jenny's parents and family and didn't leave. The way home was brutal as I cried and no words were spoken. The following day was the funeral and the one thing that I recall from the entire day was the song, "Bridge over Troubled Waters" being played and to this day I can't listen to that song without thinking of Jenny.
The one piece of this story I haven't mentioned was the reasoning behind her death. Jenny was killed by a drunk driver. Yep... a drunk driver. Senseless right? At this point I will try my best to keep some of the things I would honestly like to say about the senselessness of her death to myself. Jenny's family wouldn't want me to be spiteful in this editorial. Although it has been 15 years, understanding the why hasn't gone away, but the pain of losing a friend is lessening and her memory is still is strong as ever.
I hope this serves as a wake up call to everyone who takes that chance of driving drunk. Drinking and driving is not worth it. No way, no how, no matter what, it is WRONG. Regardless of whether you think you are able to drive after drinking, you are not. Your judgment is impaired and your reaction times to events are altered. There are safety measures implemented in our area called "Safe-Ride." Use it, and pay the nominal fee it costs to take you home safely. It is worth it and you could avoid causing something like I described above. If you aren't comfortable using Safe-Ride, call a friend or family member. Trust me, they may be upset at a call at 2 a.m. but they will get over it.
Drinking and driving doesn't have an age limit. It can happen to a teenager, a middle-aged person or someone in their 70's. What does have an impact, is your knowledge of what is right and wrong. It's right to not drink and drive and it's wrong to drink and drive, and it is that simple.
I would like those reading to not see this as preachy, but rather realize its validity. Put yourself in the shoes of Jenny's parents and what it must have been like for them to hear those words, "Your daughter was in an accident and I'm sorry she didn't survive." I can't imagine the emotions and feelings that Dennis and Arleen felt at that exact moment and then having to tell Jenny's little sister Jane, her sister won't be there for her big moments.
I hope the next time you are put in a similar situation you take time to think about the possibilities of the person and family you could impact and the feelings you would have if you hurt or killed someone. You can't go back and have a do-over.