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Wheels & Heels: Highway Fatality Sends Sobering Message

Alabama authorities say alcohol was involved in a one-car wreck that left a Decatur High grad dead.

Madison Minor Lewis is dead, but that's not the biggest tragedy.

The biggest tragedy is that the death of this promising 19-year-old woman probably could have been prevented.

Lewis was one of seven Southern Union Community College students . The vehicle driven by Sandy Jose Tiburcio, 19, left the road, overturned and struck a tree.

A freshman third baseman on the Lady Bison softball team, Madison Lewis was killed in what police are calling an accident.

But was it really an accident?

Tiburcio was charged with reckless murder, and Alabama State Troopers are saying alcohol was involved.

I don't know Tiburcio, but I feel certain that he didn't intend for anyone to die when he got behind the wheel of that Trailblazer.

On an www.AI.com website reporting the death, commenters have been upset that Tiburcio was charged with murder, noting that this was just an accident. Another commenter alleges that the driver might have swerved to avoid a deer. Or that everyone in the car was probably just as drunk as Tiburcio.

To me, the word "accident" conjures up an image of an unavoidable event. But deep down, we all know this was avoidable.

Parents should never have to bury a child. No one, least of all Madison's parents, Chuck or Charlotte "Charlie" Lewis, should ever have to pick up the telephone to hear the call that all parents dread more than any other.

Chuck Lewis has donated thousands of dollars of free printing to various schools through his business. Charlie Lewis is a passionate supporter of public schools and once ran for the school board. It would be difficult to find finer more caring and loving parents anywhere.

The sorrow triggered in this community by the death of Madison and one of her classmates, Ellen Nettles, who drowned in St. Croix the same day, has been overwhelming.

Anyone with a driver's license knows you're not supposed to get behind the wheel after drinking. But people keep on doing it.

Madison's death might be enough to get through the cocoon of invincibility that people, especially teenagers, get in thinking they can get away with something. Maybe I'm not the only Decatur parent who stared down a child with a warning that they should never, EVER, get behind the wheel of a car when they've been drinking, or ride in the car of someone who's drunk. Cab fare is cheaper than a funeral.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is calling for states to enact all-offender ignition interlock laws, which would require a driver to take a breath test before starting a car. MADD cited the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as saying that ignition interlocks reduce drunk driving recidivism by an average of 67 percent. 

Putting police officers out on the road doing high-visibility sobriety checks also catches drunk drivers and discourages others from driving drunk, MADD says.  

Madison can't die in vain. Remember her and the grief you felt when you heard about her. Burn that grief into your memory so you can call it up the next time you consider driving a car when you even suspect you've had too much to drink. Or when you think it's okay to text on your cellphone from behind the wheel. Or even get into a casual cell phone conversation behind the wheel.

Some tragedies are avoidable. It's too late for Madison Lewis. But not for your kids. Not for you.

Make sure you avoid all the "accidents" you can.  

john penn December 17, 2011 at 12:03 PM
I am so sorry.
Elizabeth Waters December 21, 2011 at 09:03 PM
I am sure if you ask the family of Madison they would agree that her death is the biggest tragedy - very odd you would think that it's not.

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