Athens Review, Athens, Texas

January 25, 2013

On a personal mission

MADD mom says group’s focus hits home

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

ATHENS — When Tammi Branch hears a siren, it takes her back to a night that changed her life.

Branch told the Athens Kiwanis Club Tuesday that emotions still well up when she thinks of the death of her 18-year-old son in 2009, when the car he was riding in left the roadway and struck a tree.

“Eric got in a car  with a friend,” Branch said. “They both had been drinking.”

Gun Barrel City police reports at the time stated the car was traveling at a high rate of speed when it left the roadway on Legendary Lane, hit a telephone post then reportedly traveled 142 feet in the air. The car then continued south before going through a chain-link fence. It came to rest only after striking a tree.

The 19-year-old driver survived the crash and was ultimately sentenced to seven years in prison for intoxicated manslaughter.

These days, Branch spends much of her time trying to prevent more accidents like the one that claimed her son. As a MADD volunteer, she talks with many of the youth drunken driving offenders spread out over 40 East Texas counties.

“I’ve just had 15 kids sent to me in the last month alone from the judicial district,” Branch said.

According to law enforcement statistics, by the time a person is convicted of driving while intoxicated he or she has driven under the influence about 80 times.

“Last year, I sat in on the sentencing of a man who had been arrested for his 10th DWI,” Branch said.

Because the offender was 74 years old, he was given a 20-year probated sentence.

Branch said the Henderson County District Attorney’s Office contacts MADD if there is a new DWI victim or a trial the organization might be interested in.

“If you’ve got three or more DWIs and you’re going to court, you’re going to look up and see one of us sitting in that courtroom,” Branch said.

The mission statement for MADD lists the three major goals of the organization:

• Stop drunk driving;

• Support the victims;

• Prevent underage dri-nking.

Branch said MADD recently added driving while impaired by drugs as a focus of the organization.

MADD was founded by Candy Lightner about 30 years ago following the death of her 13-year-old daughter. MADD today stands for more than just mothers, but also includes fathers, brothers and sisters as well as volunteers.