Resident shares her story of loss
For years, there was nothing but complete devastation in the Stewart family. While the wounds will never be fully healed, it took Wanda Stewart years upon years to recover from the loss of her 3-month-old son, Scott Stewart, due to a car crash with a drunk driver.
On Feb. 13, 1981, Stewart was driving on Highway 96 en route to meet up with her parents so they could go to her little brother’s ball game. Before she reached her destination, she decided to pull 20 yards off the highway so she could feed Scott. What followed was a nightmare she and her family will have to endure for the remainder of their lives.
“In an instant and without warning, a car struck mine from behind will full force,” Stewart said. “Scott was ejected from the car. For medical and psychological reasons, I have no memory of Scott flying from my arms. I was not allowed to hold Scott for the last time. I attended his funeral, days from my injuries and medication.”
Stewart herself was in the hospital for over a week having to brace her own injuries, but her wounds were nothing in comparison to the one she suffered internally because of a person’s decision to drink and drive.
The drunk driver was an 18-year-old woman who had a BAC of three times the legal limit (.24), and was also impaired with marijuana. Her sentence was minimal in comparison to today’s standards, as she was fined $100 and allowed to continue driving with a few restrictions. Her sentence was imposed before the impaired driving laws that govern the country today.
Stewart said through the efforts of organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving - which she is involved with – the penalties are now much more severe for drunk drivers.
Stewart shared her and Scott’s story with the media and police officers at the Wichita Police Station on Wednesday morning as part of the yearly campaign to help prevent drunk driving. As part of the campaign, Wichita police officers will be working overtime for the remainder of the month through Labor Day weekend in order to help combat drunk drivers. More than 150 law enforcement agencies are joining in the effort to reduce drunk driving, not just in Wichita but throughout the state.
While she spoke, Stewart had a picture of Scott displayed from when he was 3 months old, and showcased some of his favorite toys - including a stuffed giraffe, that she has kept to this day in memory of him.
“The impact on our family was devastating, an indescribable pain,” Stewart said. “Dreams were destroyed that day. It was nearly 10 years before I was able to listen to the audio recording of the funeral. I still keep with me Scott’s favorite toys. Baby toys that no longer get love and attention because of the decision of a person to drink and drive.”
But perhaps the most heartbreaking moment of all was when Stewart had to explain to her other two children, Spencer and Stacy - who were born after the accident - that they should have an older brother. Spencer was saddened he was supposed to have an older brother to look up to, but he would never get to meet him in person. He even took it upon himself to write a letter to Scott when he was 7 years old, which read as follows:
“Dear Scott, wherever you are, I just wanted to say that I would really like you to be on earth in this lifetime, and I wonder what you look like. I have seen pictures of you as a baby, but I wonder what you look like now. I wonder what you like to do, like play baseball or basketball or read or write. Well I like to do all that stuff, and I am your 7-year-old brother. I know only your spirit, or God can answer those questions.
The accident that cost Scott his life inspired Wanda to be an advocate against drunk driving, which the current El Dorado resident takes pride in as she now speaks to cited drunk drivers throughout Butler County whenever she has the chance.
“I feel it’s a calling, I think I do have a responsibility to share the loss of Scott in the hopes that there is going to be at least one family spared the pain,” Stewart said. “I do speak to DUI offenders in Butler County pretty much on a quarterly basis, after speaking with them and hearing their responses, I think it actually makes them personally understand what their decision could possibly do. I basically share Scott’s story in full with them, and ask them to think of someone that they love and know that they couldn’t possibly lose, because that’s where it’s going to make more of an impact.
“They’ll remember Scott’s story but as long as they can incorporate something into their lives, I think it’s going to make more of an impact. I tell them I’m just one person and there’s only so much I can do, but they can make double the impact by simply making the decision from this point forward to not drink and drive. It makes them stop and think.”
Even though she didn’t live in El Dorado during the time of the accident, Stewart said she feels a tremendous amount of support from the El Dorado community.
“We actually lived in a little community of Sterling (at the time),” Stewart said. “But family and friends in El Dorado, they know the story, I think they understand secondhand what a loss is all about. They have been as great of support as a small community can be.”
Whether it be stories like Scott’s or the police crackdown nationwide on driving while intoxicated, the state of Kansas has seen a reduced number of drunk driving related deaths. In 1981, the year that Scott perished, there were 204 drunk driving related fatalities. However in 2012, there was a recorded 117 traffic deaths that were alcohol related in Kansas.
While the number of deaths has been reduced, Stewart said the amount of alcohol related deaths are still too high, and that she still felt the need to do her part and share Scott’s story so lives can be saved in the future.
Her family has followed suit, as Stewart proudly said that her younger brother who was a junior in high school at the time is now a county attorney.
With the fall and holidays vastly approaching, Stewart encouraged the public to arrange for a taxi ahead of time or to phone a sober friend if a person plans on drinking during holiday festivities, or any other time for that matter. And if the particular person is a younger individual, she pleaded for that person to call their parents, because even if they would be a bit mad they are receiving a drunken phone call, it is a better alternative to receiving a phone call from a hospital.