Tragedies never get better with time, but hope for helping others with their addiction does.
That is the message of Lisa A. LHuillier and her husband, Charles F. Ruggiero Jr., who have each had a brother die in an alcohol-related crash.
The problem with an addiction is you can treat symptoms, but the addiction never goes away, Mr. Ruggiero said. The potential is there for any addict. Its not a failure of (the Bridge Program) or people who attempt intervention. Its a failure of the individual, not the process.
Mrs. LHuilliers brother, Brian A., was killed in December 1999. He was a passenger in a vehicle that was crashed by the drunken driver, and was ejected from the vehicle. Mr. Ruggieros brother, John, was killed in a drunken-driving accident in Florida in 1982.
The Watertown Urban Mission Bridge Programs fourth annual Race for Recovery on Sept. 8 at Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, off of Coffeen Street, has been named in honor of Mr. LHuillier and John Ruggiero. Proceeds of the 5k/10k walk-run will help fund the Bridge Program, which serves as an alternative to incarceration for DWI offenders.
While Mr. Ruggiero said his brothers and brother-in-laws accidents still bring mixed emotions to this day, he and his wife use any opportunity they can to try to teach others the effects of drunken driving. As a part-time police officer in Cape Vincent, Mr. Ruggiero said he still sees first-hand what drinking alcohol and driving or driving under the influence of drugs can do to a person and family members.
It takes a community to heal a person, he said.
Mrs. LHuillier said thats what the Race for Recovery and other Bridge Program events do.
It brings attention to the problems we have in our area of people driving and drinking, or under the influence of drugs, she said. Anything we can do to help the program so more people know about it is huge.
Andrew G. Mangione, Watertown Urban Missions director of development, said the event is not meant to be somber, but instead a celebration of life for those who have died, and a celebration for people in recovery from addictions to alcohol or drugs.
It keeps (addicts) mindful of the consequences of their actions, he said.
Mr. Ruggiero said he hopes the Race for Recovery helps to prevent such tragedies from happening. People can learn from others mistakes, he said. Even though some people are incapable of change, he said, many others have the strength to overcome their addiction.
Mr. Mangione said the events lead sponsor is a shining example: Alpine Fence Co. owner Nicholas L. Washburn used the Bridge Program to rise above difficulties after his driving shile intoxicated arrest five years ago, Mr. Mangione said.
Hes proof of the success of the program, Mr. Mangione said.
Mrs. LHuillier said her solutions for preventing DWI tragedies are simple: either take the vehicle keys from someone who has been drinking, or, if they get behind the wheel drunk, write down their license plate and call law enforcement officials.
Thirteen years later, I still relive that day my brother was killed, she said. Thats something you cant change.
As a police officer, Mr. Ruggiero said its difficult to keep his emotions in check when hes screaming inside.
Bridge Program Director Salvatore J. Ciulo said as a thank you to all race participants for helping to celebrate recovery and spread the message of consequences of drunken driving, Mrs. LHuillier and Mr. Ruggiero will greet each participant at the finish line and hand them a water bottle. Runners also will receive bracelets with Brian LHuilliers and John Ruggieros names on them.
Activities following the race include a silent auction, free lunch and childrens activities, among other entertainment.
Last year, sponsors and 200 race participants brought in $13,000 for the Bridge Program. Mr. Mangione said the state used to heavily fund the program, but has reduced its allocation in recent years. With an annual budget of about $60,000, the Bridge Program receives only $26,000 from the state each year.
Without the communitys continued support for the race, many Bridge Program activities, such as the STOP DWI Victims Panel, would not be possible, he said.
There is a race pre-registration fee of $20 per person. Those who wish to register the day of the race may do so, beginning at 7 a.m. Sept. 8, but will pay a $25 fee. The walk-run begins at 10 a.m. Discounts are available for six-member teams and military members.
Registration information is available at the mission, 247 Factory St., or on its website, www.watertownurbanmission.com