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Panel shows impact of drunken-driving deaths

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The drunken-driving death of Sean D. Howard on the early morning of July 1, 2006, has weighed heavily on the mind of his sister, Kayla C. Sherman.

The two had been drinking at a friend’s high school graduation party, and at the end of the night they went their separate ways, he driving his truck and she riding in a friend’s car. She remembers riding off, waving to her brother through the window.

“I could’ve stopped him,” she said Saturday morning during the STOP DWI Victims’ Impact Panel, hosted by the Watertown Urban Mission Bridge Program.

After she arrived safely at her friend’s house that night, she received a call telling her that her brother’s vehicle had gone off the road. Mr. Howard lost control of his truck while driving on Route 11 in the town of Ellisburg, and he died of the injuries he suffered when ejected from the vehicle, including chest trauma and a severed liver.

“I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t say a word because I knew what was happening,” she said, recalling how she learned the news with her family at Samaritan Medical Center.

Speaking for the first time at the impact panel, held periodically, Ms. Sherman said she felt a lot of guilt for letting her brother, 23 at the time of his death, drive from the party. She said she had reflected more on his death since she recently turned 24.

“I wonder why I got to make it and he didn’t,” she said.

Ms. Sherman was one of several family members of people killed during driving while intoxicated-related crashes who spoke at the panel discussion, which is used to educate violators and the public about the risks of drunken driving.

Linda R. Ekpe told attendees about the August 2004 death of her 17-year-old son Daniel O.J. Ekpe, when the car he was driving home from Clayton to Cape Vincent was hit by a drunken driver. He was about to start his senior year at Thousand Islands High School,

“Each and every day we try moving on, but it’s difficult,” she said.

She urged people to seek alternatives to driving after drinking, such as calling a friend or a taxi.

Saturday’s panel, which drew 128 people to the mission, 247 Factory St., also included Jefferson County Judge Kim H. Martusewicz and county District Attorney Cindy F. Intschert.

The panels have been held for 15 years, said Bridge Program Director Salvatore J. Ciulo, and many of the family members who spoke at the event Saturday had done so for several years.

“It’s not easy for them to do, and I’m so proud of everything they’ve been able to accomplish,” he said.

Mr. Ciulo estimated about 30 percent of Saturday’s attendees had no legal requirement to do so, a higher count than usual. Some clients of the Bridge Program, an alternative to incarceration in which participants receive intensive supervision, and other individuals are mandated to attend.

In a first for the event, a crew from WPBS-TV recorded its speakers.

Plans are for the video to be distributed to schools and nonprofit organizations around the region.

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