Elizabeth M. “Beth” Faulkner was killed by a drunken driver Oct. 7, 2006, in a small Ohio town the size of Berlin. She had just turned 18. She was a freshman at Kent State University majoring in psychology and looking forward to premed.
“Her life had just begun,” said her aunt, Ligonier resident Jodi Kreger, to a room filled with people who had all been sentenced in Somerset County court for driving while under the influence.
Beth was born July 7, 1988, in Somerset, the daughter of Heidi and Keith Yutzy of Mount Gilead, Ohio, and Kevin and Wendy Faulkner of Somerset.
Kreger’s yearning for her niece was palpable. About 50 people filled the small room at Somerset County Children & Youth Services — men and women of all ages. Each one had to show identification and sign into the court-ordered DUI victim-impact class. Two Somerset County Probation Department staffers smiled and greeted them. None of those attending the class looked happy to be there.
“Alcohol is the oldest legal and most popular accessible drug,” said Shelley Hay, who organizes the classes for the probation department.
She looked over the list. Ten people were no-shows.
“I don’t know what we are going to do. We won’t have room for them in October,” she said to victim liaison Lee Ann Miller, who shook her head.
Both women run the probation department program.
Dual DUI victim-impact classes are scheduled for October. They are full. The women run about eight court-ordered classes a year with about 50 DUI offenders per class.
The probation department implemented the victim-impact classes in 1998. The program was an answer to the philosophy that offenders need to be held accountable for their actions and aware of the results of their actions.
The program also allows for healing for the victims by giving them an opportunity to be heard and the hope that their stories will keep offenders from driving drunk again.
The second speaker, Rob Stemple of Shanksville, used dry humor and details of the worst day of his life to successfully draw the crowd into his world.
It was the summer of 1989 and Stemple was driving home to his wife and three children, who were 1, 3 and 5 at the time, after performing as part of a band at weddings near Greensburg. He didn’t realize it would be the last day he would have his sight.
A female driver, with her three kids in the back and a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent, drove directly into his car. It changed his life forever. The woman and her children were not seriously injured. She was ordered to pay a $75 fine for failing to yield the right of way.
“She was not there, then instantly she was there,” he told the class. It took the emergency responders two hours to cut him of the car, which had folded around him with the woman’s vehicle on top, he said.
“Basically, my forehead was pushed into my brain,” he said. He also sustained numerous broken bones throughout his body. His sight was gone. His face had to be reconstructed; his legs were rebuilt. For years his life was filled with agonizing hours in surgery and recuperation. His career as a teacher was gone. He had to learn how to maneuver through the world without sight. His wife and children were there every step of the way.
His message for the group was to never drive while drunk.
After the meeting, Stemple talked about how he needs yet another operation on his back that stems from the 1989 crash. He is nervous but hopeful, he said.
Stemple and Kreger have both become involved as speakers for the county’s victim-impact classes in hopes of making a difference, but also as personal therapy.
More people are needed to tell their stories.
“The topic is difficult to talk about — a loved one is hurt or has died,” Hay said.
Kreger, who has stood before many such classes, doesn’t plan to quit. She still tears up at times and has to stop talking for a second to compose herself.
She took a moment to look at the offenders, and she gave them a sad smile.
“I know a lot of you think this is the worst thing that could happen to me; this is a very big inconvenience,” she told the group.
“Think of it a little different: This is they best thing that happened to you, because you are still here. You have another chance. You didn’t kill yourself. You didn’t kill anybody else because if you did you wouldn’t be in the class. So this is isn’t the worst thing that ever happened to you. You have a second chance.”
Kreger added: “DUI fatalities cross state lines, they cross all walks of life. It doesn’t matter how much money you make, where you live, how big your house is, how educated you are.”
The program’s goal is to prevent future incidences by showing the possible consequences of irresponsible driving, according to Miller.
“We try to change their (offenders) thinking patterns in driving and drinking,” she said.