BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The Kern County district attorney's office says 4,000 DUI arrests are made every year, that's why with coronavirus guidelines in mind 23ABC and Mothers Against Drunk Driving here in Kern County, are taking their seventh annual “MADD Dash” and “Walk Like MADD” events online.
If you were to ask Mary Jo Kvasnicka about losing her daughter to a car accident that involved an impaired driver a few years ago, she says it would be very difficult to do so.
But she bravely shared her story about what she describes as an easily preventable, but irreversible loss that she still lives with every. Single. Day.
Local mother Mary Jo Kvasnicka was waiting for her 27-year-old daughter, Jackie to come home from a Bakersfield Blaze baseball game one night six years ago. Rather than her daughter, a sheriff arrived at Kvasnicka’s door.
“I would consider myself a god-fearing woman. I pray every day for my kids. And I stood right under my crucifix, which I have at the front door so that anyone who passes by received the blessing. And I just fell apart. I went into a puddle, and all I could think when I was under that crucifix was tell me why,” Mary Jo Kvasnicka.
She shared that Jackie was only five minutes from home when a drunk driver crashed into the car.
Not only did Jackie leave behind her husband and daughter, but she'd gotten accepted to the University of San Francisco.
“I’m a type one diabetic and have been almost my entire life. As is her daughter. And her two sisters. So, Jackie said, mom, I’m going to find the cure for all of you.”
But instead, her daughter and best friend passed away. Only the third passenger survived.
“We had to plan a funeral. We had to go to the morgue. We couldn’t identify the body because without going into too much detail, there was nothing left to identify. Nothing.”
Mary Jo and her family would go on to wait for a court case for three years.
She says Carla Pearson who heads Mothers Against Drunk Driving Kern County was there to support her.
“She held my hand every single day. Without her and our Attorney Jim Simpson, I would not have survived.”
MADD is hosting their Seventh Annual Walk Like MADD and MADD Dash with 23ABC virtually this year, to make sure that this doesn’t keep happening to mothers like Mary Jo.
Kern County District Attorney Deputy, Brandon Stallings says that our community has the most DUI fatalities in the state per capita and second-most in the United States. Since the pandemic, he says the numbers haven’t gone down.
“We’re hearing from law enforcement individuals driving impaired in that peak hour from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m., they’re seeing DUI’s all throughout the day,” said Stallings.
They're hoping to raise at least $55,000 this year, where they’ve raised about $80,000 in the past. MADD nationally has lost 80% of their revenue this year during the pandemic, making the virtual walks people do individually from October 3-10, crucial.
Stallings says the money will be going directly back into MADD resources in Kern County including helping victims navigate the court system, speaking at court-ordered DUI offender programs, and education programs at schools.
Kvasnicka and her husband are very involved in the organization and are actually some of the parents who speak at schools about what they went through.
“And I thought, what can I do to honor her, to make sure her memory stays alive and that something good comes out of this. And through the hand of God, he’s led us down every door to do things like this with you, to make a statement and hopefully prevent this from happening again in the future,” said Mary Jo Kvasnicka.
The event is happening now, to conclude on October 10 with a virtual ceremony.
23ABC's Jessica Harrington is also taking part in the MADD Dash.
If you'd like to participate by bidding in the auction, donating, or even signing up, check here.