At the conclusion of Alicia Smith’s work shift the evening of July 4, 2014, her husband picked her up and they headed home to celebrate the holiday with their three small children.
They never made it.
As they turned left from Golden State Avenue onto Snow Road, her husband suddenly let out a yell and Smith looked up to see a “giant truck barreling toward us.” She heard a loud pop and felt the car spin violently. It came to a rest facing in the opposite direction.
Firefighters needed the Jaws of Life to extricate her from the wrecked vehicle, and she underwent surgery for a broken hip and spent months in rehabilitation. The fingers of husband Matthew Smith’s left hand are permanently disfigured.
The other motorist, Frankie Kahle, had been driving under the influence. He pleaded no contest to two felony DUI charges and spent a few months in jail before moving back to South Dakota to be with family.
It doesn’t sit well with Smith that Kahle’s ordeal is over while his actions changed her life.
“There’s not a day I wake up that I don't have pain, but you learn that's just part of life,” she said Friday.
She hopes her story, and those of other DUI victims attending the upcoming “Walk/Run Like MADD” 5k, help convince people to drive sober. Event organizers say they want to raise awareness of the DUI problem in Kern County as well as raise funds for local programs to fight against drinking and driving.
“The fight is not over,” said Carla Pearson, a victim advocate for Mothers Against Drunk Driving of Kern County. “People are still making the choice to get behind the wheel after drinking, putting your life and their own life at risk. These are not accidents – they are 100 percent preventable crashes.”
Smith, 35, had to go on disability due to her injuries and eventually lost her job. She can’t play with her three young children — ages 3, 5 and 8 — like she used to.
And while she doesn’t always need a cane or walker, there are still times she can’t get around without one.
“I just want people to realize that there is nothing in life that is more important than your health, and there's no party, no barbecue, no day of celebration that is so important that you need to get behind the wheel and put your life and the lives of those around you in jeopardy,” Smith said.
Jessica Magee, 22, also bears scars as a result of an alleged drunken driver. She suffered third-degree burns on her right arm and half her face in a fiery crash on Rosedale Highway that killed two friends.
Dontrell Collins, the driver of the car that plowed into the back of the vehicle Magee was traveling in, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder and other offenses. He faces a life sentence if convicted.
Magee underwent two major surgeries to replace lost skin. One of the procedures involved the use of cadaver skin, and skin was transferred from her legs in the other. It’s been a year since the crash, but she still needs pain medicine to sleep, and every three months she gets cortisone injections for her scarring.
Magee credits family and friends, especially her mother and sisters, with encouraging her to go back to school as soon as possible and not let her injuries slow her down. She’s currently interning at the law firm of Chain Cohn Stiles, one of several companies, including Chevron and Kern Schools Federal Credit Union, sponsoring the 5k.
“I didn't want this situation to define me, I just wanted to grow from it and hopefully to help people,” said Magee, who, like Smith, has become involved with MADD.
The second annual 5k will be held from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Sept. 19 at The Park at River Walk at 11200 Stockdale Highway. Registration begins at 6:30 a.m., with opening ceremonies at 7:30 a.m.
For more information, go to www.walklikemadd.org and go to the Bakersfield page.