It is quickly approaching the two year anniversary of the death of Nicolas Robert Townsend.
Nick was involved in a car accident May 15, 2015, caused by a drunk driver, who was recently sentenced to 16 years in prison.
The trauma from the accident was so terrible, Nick died two short days later. One day before he was scheduled to graduate from Portland High School.
Nick was a passionate, energetic, patriotic, young man, whose life (like many others) was stolen by the selfish decision to drink and drive.
The tragic accident permanently damaged the hearts of those who knew and loved Nick.
Tanya Read (Nick’s mother) knows this pain all too well.
I arrived at Tanya’s home one late Thursday afternoon. As she is still a grieving mother, I was surprised to be greeted by a warm hello and a friendly smile, as well as her many dogs (which she loves) and Nick’s adorable youngest sister, Maggie.
I sat down with Tanya to talk about how this accident has affected her family, the dangers of drinking and driving, and why it needs to stop. Tanya and I laughed, fought back tears, and most importantly spoke about the horrible consequences of drinking and driving, and how she is affected by it personally.
Some facts: 27 people die daily due to drunk driving. Two-out of every three Americans are predicted to be involved in an accident due to drunk driving every single year. Tanya is very passionate about speaking out against drunk driving, so more families are not affected.
RS: When you got the phone call concerning Nick’s accident and realized it was a drunk driver, what were your first thoughts?
TR: Ryan (Nick’s father) and I were out celebrating our anniversary. Nick, Anna (Nick’s girlfriend) and Samantha were volunteering at the Special Olympics. They were on their way home. Ryan and I were on the freeway coming home, and then my phone rang, It was coming from Nick’s phone, but it was Jason Williams (Portland detective.) All he said was, “Tanya. there was a car wreck. They are taking Nick to the hospital.”
I knew as soon as I got that call, it was not a small minor thing. I didn’t find out it was a drunk driver until early Saturday morning, Ryan and I were told at around 2 a.m. by a state trooper.
TR: When I found out it was a drunk driver, I was in shock. Because you hear about those situations on the news, but you don’t ever expect to be living it. The anger set in when I found out the driver had her two-year-old in the car with her.
RS: That was the most shocking for me, too.
TR: That’s still what makes me the angriest, actually. Because she obviously made a disgusting, horrible, ugly, decision, but she didn’t get behind the wheel and say, “I’m going to take out Nick Townsend.”
RS: But she knew the child was in the car.
TR: Exactly. She buckled her child in the car, knowing she had been drinking. It could have been her two-year-old.
RS: If you had to sum it up briefly, how has this accident affected you and your family?
TR: Brief? Whoo… let’s see. Everything. We all feel more anxious. The bubble of invincibility that kids have, the innocence, my kids don’t have that anymore. Because they have experienced the worst thing a child can experience. And I feel scared. I feel scared when Maggie gets on the bus, when Tyler goes on a call, and when Summer leaves the house. The main thing I feel is fear.
TR: No parent is supposed to bury their child. It is not the natural progression of things. I truly feel like when I walked away from him for the last time, I walked away from part of my soul.
RS: Many teens and young adults believe that driving “buzzed” or “slightly drunk” is something that is acceptable. What would you say to people who believe there is some leeway to get away with risking someone else’s life?
TR: (Laughs) That they aren’t only risking someone else’s life, they are risking their own life. And if someone wants to look at their mom, or friend, or teacher and say, “I’m going to risk you seeing me in the hospital injured beyond repair…” I just don’t know. Because, see, the woman who hit my son wasn’t “that drunk”; it just takes one split second of not paying attention, and that split second was enough. All the horror movies in the world do not do justice to seeing a loved one hurt, like that. Not one of us is invincible. Not one of us. So if they don’t care about themselves they are risking another mom losing her child. It only takes one beer and someone is not 100 percent on reaction time.
RS: I know. It’s extremely common for people to go to a party, and just drive home like there is nothing wrong.
TR: And they think it’s funny. She thought it was funny too, she was laughing that night. The only time she got upset, was when she asked for a cigarette, and the officer said no.
TR: I have seen the car. And after the trial is over with, I want that car. Because after the trial is over with, I would like to talk to high schools and show them. Actually seeing that… just the car… the wreckage. That was somebody that wasn’t that drunk.
RS: I think that something that was the most powerful, was that she wasn’t that drunk. And so many people give themselves just that little space of freedom, to do something stupid.
TR: Kids are geared to think that not anything could happen to them.
RS: Right, because you expect to live until you’re 80 years old… Nick most definitely did. I mean, you thought he’d never shut up.
TR: I know right. But, anything tht is going to take away your perception, your reflexes, and minimize your safety in a one-ton vehicle. I mean, why would you wanna do that?
TR: I don’t know…. It’s just… I definitely... feel his loss. But as his mother? I wouldn’t wish something like this on my worst enemy. I wouldn’t wish something like this on that woman, to be honest. She could be sitting in that jail mourning the loss of her son, and I still wouldn’t wish that on her.
RS: To someone who may be going through a similar situation, mourning this type of loss, what advice would you offer them, to deal with this?
TR: Number One, Do not allow hate to be the focus. Focus on honoring your loved one. Focus on them, and who they were. I focus very little on the driver, I refuse to dwell on what she’s taken from us. I refuse to dwell on even the anger, because in time I hope to reach a state of grace and forgiveness. I do not want to be a bitter, sad person, I don’t want to waste any time not honoring him. Anger is a huge part of the grieving process, and it’s understandable, but don’t hang on to it.
In my case I did turn to God, and I have no doubt where Nick is. Not a question in my mind. I know that it doesn’t make sense to us now, why this happened, but I know that in time we’ll know why. We’ll see him again. I try to focus on honoring Nick and raising awareness, like you’re doing, and teaching people. Because that makes his death a little less in vain.
TR: Maybe this could help one person think twice. Because that’s one mother that doesn’t have to talk to a stone in a cemetery, that’s one little sister that doesn’t have to have bad days at school, that’s one community that doesn’t have to go through what this entire community went through.
Tanya and her family are just one of many families who have buried a loved one due to someone getting behind the wheel after drinking. There are no words we can say to make up for losses like this one, but there is something we can do.
Making responsible decisions can not only save your own life, but save the lives of others, too.
You may not think that anything like this could ever happen to you, which is understandable. Please remember that no one who knew Nick ever thought it could happen either.
If ever you find yourself questioning whether to be responsible, or to be selfish, remember that not one of us is invincible. Do not wait until it’s too late to learn.
For more information on drinking and driving visit: www. responsibility.org
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In honor of Nicolas Robert Townsend
July 2, 1997- May 17, 2015