When she was only 14 years old, El Dorado resident Ashley Shinert’s life changed forever because of the decision of a drunk driver to get behind the wheel.
Shinert recalled that day in 2001. She said it was July 27, which was her dad’s birthday.
“My parents were divorced and it was my mom’s weekend to have us,” she said.
Her dad had plans for his birthday and her mom also had plans, so they dropped Shinert and her sister, Amber Hall, as well as a friend off at The Palace in Wichita to watch a movie until their mom could pick them up.
When they got there the movie they were going to see had already started and they didn’t see anything else they wanted to watch, so they went across the street to see some friends in the trailer park until the next movie started. A group of four of them were out walking around, then at about 9:30 they headed back across Kellogg.
“It was still pretty light,” Shinert recalled.
As they made their way across the street, Hall was a few steps away from the others when a drunk driver sped down the street and hit her.
“It was so surreal,” she said, “because we looked up and saw her in the air. He actually kept going after he hit her.”
The driver was going 55 miles per hour in a 40 mile per hour zone and did not have his lights on.
Shinert said she ran to her sister who was lying on the ground, while one of her friends chased the car all the way down the street to the nearby gas station, where he had to pull in because his windshield was shattered.
“I went to my sister and saw her on the ground,” Shinert said. “She wasn’t moving or crying. I knew not to pick her up.”
Shinert ran into the theater screaming for someone to call 911. She said everyone looked at her like she was crazy, but someone did call 911.
At first, she was told her sister had a broken leg, but it ended up being more than that.
Hall was taken by ambulance to Wesley Medical Center and Shinert’s grandmother picked her up and took her to the hospital.
“The doctors kept coming back out and saying more and more was wrong with her,” Shinert said.
Her sister’s leg had been shattered, she had a collapsed lung and her arm was broken, but the major injury was the blow to the head she suffered, which caused swelling on her brain.
Page 2 of 4 - Her sister was in the hospital five days before her parents had to make the decision to take her off of life support because there was no brain activity.
She passed away on the afternoon of Aug. 2, Shinert said, after they all had the chance to say their goodbyes.
Shinert believes she saw the man who hit her sister at the accident later because someone was there who kept saying how sorry he was.
“The guy ended up getting off,” she said.
The experience had a huge impact on Shinert’s whole family’s life.
“It definitely affected me big time,” she said. “I remember watching that happen. I just think how do things like that happen?”
That fall she went back to school, going into the eighth grade.
“The first day of eighth grade a crowd of people came up and were asking me questions,” she said.
“I felt judged in a way too.”
She said by the time she went into ninth grade she was tired of answering questions and telling her story.
“In ninth grade I didn’t want to go to school anymore,” she said. “People were always asking about it. People were beginning to get nasty about it. It gave me a big anxiety issue.”
Shinert also had shared a room with her sister and said she couldn’t go back in the room for quite a while, instead sleeping on the couch. Her parents had to remodel the room so she could be in there. She also had a lot of support from her friends who were always staying over and trying to keep her mind off of what had happened.
The incident caused her mom to move away and to constantly try to numb the pain, which led to her death. Her father then died when Shinert was 17 from a rare cancer.
“It has definitely made me a stronger person, and I don’t take things for granted,” Shinert said.
“The biggest thing that has helped me cope is these two (her twins). I feel like I got a family back because I had lost everyone.”
Despite losing her sister, she keeps her memory alive. She has framed mementoes from her sister and said she plans to tell her children about their aunt.
Now she is constantly on the lookout for drunk drivers and is paranoid when she is in a car.
She urges everyone not to drink and drive.
Page 3 of 4 - “I think when people drink and drive they think they are OK and it won’t happen to them,” she said. “I didn’t think this was going to happen to my sister. My sister will never grow up and get to know her niece and nephew. “
Shinert’s husband, Michael, is a police officer and she said one of his passions is DUI check points.
Shinert also has found help through the DUI Victims Center. Each year they hold a ceremony where she goes and lights a candle for her sister.
“It makes me feel like I’m still keeping a part of her alive,” she said.
As the Labor Day holiday approaches, area law enforcement agencies will have extra patrols on the lookout for drunk drivers, including the El Dorado Police Department.
Known as You Drink. You Drive. You Lose., the crackdown is underwritten by a grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT).
Kansas averages nearly five persons injured every day and one person killed every three days in alcohol-related crashes.
Nationwide drunk driving kills almost 10,000 people each year.
According to KDOT, if a person is involved in such a crash – in any capacity – he or she is 2 1/2 times more likely to be injured and 4 1/2 times more likely to be seriously injured or killed than if involved in a crash in which alcohol is not determined to be a factor. The ratio of death to injury in alcohol-related crashes is almost four times higher than the death to injury.
“I want this enforcement to remind drivers of several things,” said Interim Chief Curt Zieman.
“First, if you’re going to drink while away from home, do it responsibly by planning ahead and lining someone up who is not going to be drinking to get you back. Don’t wait until it’s time to go home to start asking around. Chances are, if you do that, you will wind up with a driver who thinks he’s sober enough to be driving, but may not be.
“Second, picture families you know, and then consider how it would be to wake up every day to the memory of your decision to drive after drinking – a decision which brought injury or
“Third, we can pull you over for any number of traffic infractions and mechanical deficiencies. If we do and we detect a hint of alcohol you will be tested. If you fail the test you’re looking at a fine of $500-$2,500; up to one year in jail; the suspension or even permanent loss of your driver’s license; and the installation of an ignition interlock device in your car. Imagine not being able to start your car without blowing into the interlock’s alcohol sensor several times during an afternoon’s errands. Don’t take the chance; it’s not worth it,” he continued.
Page 4 of 4 - “Fourth, we ask everyone to be our eyes when on the road. If you see suspicious driving behaviors take note of location and direction, as well as the vehicle’s description, and call 911. Fifth, you can count on this department to enforce impaired driving laws – during this. Finally, always remember that the best protection against a drunk driver (even when it’s yourself) is the use of seat belts and appropriate child restraints – every trip, every time. They save lives and reduce serious injury every day.”