2017-12-15 / Front Page

Everyone can do their part to have safe holiday

Laura Levering
Fort Gordon Public Affairs Office

Thousands will vacate Fort Gordon next week during the installation’s annual Holiday Block Leave and officials want to ensure it ends with a safe return.

Leave is scheduled to begin Thursday and end Jan. 8, 2018.

Michael Reed, the Fort Gordon Army Substance Abuse Program Prevention Branch chief, hosted a command program Dec. 1 at Alexander Hall that highlighted the dangers of driving while intoxicated.

Addressing an audience consisting of mostly young Soldiers from 15th Signal Regimental Brigade, Reed emphasized tragedy can occur anywhere to anyone. Just three weeks ago, a life-altering accident happened to three Fort Gordon Sailors.

A Sailor is incarcerated facing vehicular homicide after the car he was driving struck a power pole early Thanksgiving morning. A passenger in the car died three days later from injuries sustained in the accident. Another passenger survived but suffered injuries and will have to live with the memory.

“It breaks my heart,” Reed said. “When we lose someone downrange, I can deal with that … it’s war, and I recognize that happens in war, but when we lose someone in garrison because of a choice that they made, I really have a hard time because it didn’t have to happen.”

The Sailor’s story is one of many like it; entirely too many, Reed said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 10,497 alcohol-related fatalities in the United States last year. Three hundred sixty-eight of those fatalities occurred in Georgia. None of them should have happened.

“The reality is that every one of those DUI deaths is entirely preventable,” Reed said. “We shouldn’t lose any, but unfortunately we lose too many.”

Airman 1st Class Brandy Fehr, of Penrose, Colorado, was one of 13,491 alcohol-related fatalities that occurred in the U.S. during 2006.

Putting a face and life to her name, Fehr’s sister, Theresa J. De Wild, an Army Veteran and Mothers Against Drunk Driving program specialist, shared photographs and stories about Fehr.

De Wild said her sister was visiting her at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, when Fehr “caught the military bug.” She enlisted in the Air Force Security Forces a short time later. One of De Wild’s fondest memories of her sister was watching her graduate from technical school.

At 22 years old, Fehr excelled in everything she did and had a promising future ahead of her in the Air Force.

“She graduated the top 5 percent in her class, and they told her she could pick anywhere in the world to go,” De Wild said.

To her dismay, De Wild said Fehr chose Wyoming instead of somewhere exotic because she wanted to be close enough to home so she could visit family when she wanted.

Wyoming was also close to some of De Wild’s military friends. Wanting to look out for her younger sister, De Wild connected Fehr with friends she knew who were stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. Fehr befriended Sgt. Robert Clark and his wife. Clark, a Soldier who was also a member of the Patriot Guard, was scheduled to go on a ride with his wife, but their son got sick, so his wife asked Fehr if she wanted to take her place.

“Of course my sister was not going to pass up a ride through the mountains on a Harley,” De Wild said.

Clark and Fehr had just fueled up the motorcycle and were preparing to head back to Fort Carson on April 8, 2006, when a drunk driver ran a stop sign. Fehr, the passenger, was ejected from the bike and thrown about 40 feet over the car into oncoming traffic and died instantly. Clark was pinned between the car and bike when the bike caught fire.

“From eyewitness accounts and the people that actually saw the crash occur, it took him about three to three and a half minutes to die because he burned to death,” De Wild said.

The driver of the vehicle was so disoriented he crawled over his passenger to get out of the vehicle. He did not realize he had hit them and did not attempt to render aide. Authorities determined Clark was driving between 37 to 39 MPH in a 45 MPH zone, and there were no skid marks from the car. The driver of the car blew a 0.185 at the scene, and about an hour later he blew a 0.191.

“His BAL went up, which means he finished his last beer within seconds of getting behind the wheel,” De Wild said.

The offender was sentenced to 12 years in prison (six years per person), but only served 8 years and 8 months due to good behavior.

De Wild said she has had time to process the incident and no longer views the offender as the monster she once did.

“I think about his family – a lot – especially when he was incarcerated, because they lost a son, and they lost a brother, too,” De Wild said. “But they got their son and their brother back. My sister is never coming back.”

De Wild said she shares her sister’s story with everyone she can in hopes of preventing similar tragedies from occurring. It is also a way for her to keep Fehr’s memory alive.

This holiday season, if you or someone you know plans on drinking, do not get behind the wheel of a vehicle.

“Have a plan,” Reed said. “Have a good holiday, be safe, have fun, celebrate, spend time with your family … but do so in a manner that you can be proud of.”

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