Students at Stephenville High School were in for an emotional end to the school’s “Every 15 Minutes” program held last week before their departure for spring break.
Organizers of the event to raise awareness about drunk driving invited a mother from Dublin to provide her story after losing her daughter in an alcohol-related traffic accident.
Packed into the SHS auditorium for a mock memorial service that concluded the two-day program, students were eventually brought to tears as Deborah McClatchy spoke of the night that her daughter, Marie LeAnn, was killed outside of Dublin on Nov. 11, 2006.
The message was powerful and stirred emotions, just as organizers had hoped it would to drive home the message that drinking and driving is always a bad decision.
Within minutes of introducing herself and describing the details of her daughter’s untimely death, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
McClatchy told students that her daughter had passed away on her 17th birthday after climbing into a car with an intoxicated friend who was behind the wheel.
While LeAnn hadn’t consumed any alcohol that evening, McClatchy said she still lost her daughter and described the pain she and her family went through, and still suffer from more than a year later.
“Picture in your mind the one person you love so much in this world,” McClatchy asked the students. “Now, imagine losing that person.”
She recalled the phone call that night. The one McClatchy says “you never would expect you’d get.”
Following her daughter’s passing McClatchy said she sought a way to keep her daughter’s memory alive. “I was contacted by a teacher at Dublin asking if I would come speak, and one of the teachers and counselors from Stephenville happened to be there, so they asked if I would like to speak (at SHS).”
For the second time in as many years, the Dublin mother appeared before local students and through the story of her personal experiences, asked them to avoid situations that led to her daughter’s death.
“She (LeAnn) had the world in front of her. Let’s face it, you believe you’re bulletproof at 17,” said McClatchy. “The reason why I first started (publicly speaking) was because I wanted to bring something good out of LeAnn’s death. If I could change one student’s mind, I feel like I’ve made a difference.”
McClatchy admits it’s difficult to appear before hundreds of teens, let alone hold back her tears, in order to deliver her message. “It’s very hard to do. I relive it every night in my dreams any way, but it’s just speaking it out loud.”
Since speaking to students, the mother says she believes she’s making an impact because several in the crowd have contacted her to express their appreciation.
“I want them to know it wasn’t just the victims that paid a price that night. It was all the people in the car - their families and friends,” said McClatchy.
During her speech at SHS last Friday, students wept as the mother described the pain of losing a child, and the impact it had on her household. McClatchy told the crowd that her son fell ill due to stress and had to resort to taking a break from his college studies. Another child would often refuse meals, and an occupant involved in the wreck caused a division in his family due to blame they put on him for their father’s death.
“One day she was gone, all from one bad decision,” McClatchy said, as she struggled to hold back her emotions. “Don’t let it happen to you. If your personality has to come from a can or bottle, don’t do it.”
McClatchy said she hopes her first-hand accounts of dealing with a teenage child’s death will reach every student. “I don’t think most teens realize that drunk driving accidents can happen to anyone. Death has no age preference. I want them to realize they’re special the way they are and that they don’t need alcohol to be happy.”
As a parent, McClatchy also provided advice for parents. “I think they need to constantly talk to their children about alcohol or drugs. They’re listening even when it appears they’re not or seem aggravated. Not only should parents talk about alcohol, but peer pressure.”
Since her daughter’s passing, McClatchy has taken an active role in raising awareness about the effects of alcohol. Along with taking the time to speak once a year at Dublin and Stephenville schools, she is active with STAR Council, serving as a board member for the past three years. She was also president of the now abandoned chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving at Tarleton State University.
Shortly after LeAnn’s passing, McClatchy also attempted to reach out to local college students by writing her story for The J-TAC, the campus newspaper, urging them to not get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol.
Even though she only has her daughter’s memory, McClatchy says it’s her way to hopefully prevent another family from living the same story.
McClatchy knows her message has stuck with teens, just as she hopes after stepping down from the podium. “You get little things. After I gave the speech in Dublin there were telephone calls, letters and cards. The rose bush that LeAnn planted at the school was in full bloom that day. I know that sounds crazy, but I carry that memory around with me. Maybe it was a sign that she approved of what I said to the students.”