A mother's cause — to prevent further losses
On the first Wednesday of every month, Val Reha stands before a room of strangers and recounts the death of her teenage daughter in a drunken-driving accident 35 years ago.
"I don't have anything prepared," Reha said. "I just get up there and talk and talk. Sometimes I don't even know what I'm saying."
Reha participates in a victim impact panel, required viewing for people convicted of driving under the influence of intoxicants.
Reha joined the panel a year and a half ago. The panel is composed of people who have lost loved ones to drunken drivers and those whose lives were changed after they caused an accident while driving under the influence.
"It took me a while before I could speak about Vivian's death," Reha said.
"It has been a lot of years, and I learned to live with it."
Vivian Reha had been partying with some friends on May 6, 1972, near the Gold Hill bridge when they decided to load into a truck and head down Tolo Road.
The intoxicated driver lost control of the truck while negotiating a curve. The truck flipped, throwing Vivian from the cab.
The police delivered the news to Reha and her husband Tim Reha later that night.
"It takes a few minutes to think about think about that," Reha said. "Fatal. Is that the end?"
Last year there were 21 fatal car crashes in Jackson County. Eleven of these were alcohol related, according to the Jackson County Sheriff's Department.
Nationwide, 17,602 people were killed in DUII crashes last year. Oregon recorded 148 fatal DUII crashes in 2006, accounting for 31 percent of all deaths on the state's roads.
That's an 18.4 percent increase since 2005, according to the sheriff's department.
"On the panel, we hope that we can get through to people about drinking and driving," Reha said. "It's a killer."
The crux of the court-ordered panel is to put a face on those affected by those who chose to drink and drive, said Sandy Nelson, traffic safety manager for the sheriff's department.
"It causes havoc in the lives of those who lose family members, but also in the driver's life," Nelson said.
The panel, held at the Smullin Center on the campus of Rogue Valley Medical Center the first Wednesday of every month, is open to the public.
Nelson said local driver's education students would benefit from seeing the victims tell their stories.
"We get positive letters from those in treatment for alcohol abuse saying they learned a lot from the panel," Nelson said.
Some are put off by the panel, which includes deputies showing gruesome pictures from local DUII deaths.
"We've gotten notes saying they were shocked by the pictures," Reha said. "But if we can get to one person, it's worth it."
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail email@example.com.