Twenty years later, the lessons of drunk driving remain sharp.
The scene remains clear in my mind: Middle of the night, a knock on the door, a police officer sheepishly smiles and waves, my mother crying at the kitchen table.
September 25 will mark the 20th anniversary of my father's death, just three days after my birthday. I will turn 29 this year, the same age my mother was that fateful night when officers told her my father was killed in a car accident. My sister and I were nine months and nine years old respectively.
My father was an executive chef of a hotel restaurant in Dallas and worked late nights. He was a gregarious, lovable, teddy bear of a man who loved people and was a good father. Although I did not know it at the time, he also liked to drink.
The night of his death he had been drinking at work and fell asleep while driving home. His car went under an 18-wheeler and he was crushed.
My mother recently told me that he was four times over the legal limit when he got behind the wheel. Hotel workers offered to give him a room for the night but he refused. My mother said she is thankful that no one else was hurt or killed in the accident.
He had driven drunk before, but had never been stopped for driving under the influence. My mother was young. She had never been around anyone who drank and did not know the signs of alcoholism. She also did not know better to tell him not to drink and drive.
My family learned the hard way.
My mother tried to keep the fact that my father was drunk at the time of his death a secret from my sister and I because she did not want us to think of him any differently. She was embarrassed. Until recently, I was, too. I did not want my friends or strangers knowing that my father " whom I remember very fondly " had a penchant for alcohol that killed him.
Now that I am older I realize there are lessons to be learned from my father's death. His one decision to get behind the wheel drunk affected hundreds of people. My mother went into a depressed state and tried to kill herself, which left me at a young age to take care of my sister and to ultimately move in with our aunt and uncle in another state.
I learned the lesson again in college when my sorority sister was hit and killed by an underage drunk driver on the New Jersey Turnpike while going home for Christmas break. Her brother-in-law, a police officer, was also injured in the accident. The day after Christmas that year hundreds of her family and friends packed a sizable Catholic church in the Jersey burbs.
Christmas will never be the same for her family again, just as my birthday is always marred with the thought that the anniversary of my father's death is right around the corner.
As a reporter for the Sierra Sun, one of my duties is collecting the Placer County Sheriff's Department reports for Tahoe. I am always shocked by how many people are pulled over for drunk driving and how many people are repeat offenders.
I had a boyfriend in college who was arrested for drunk driving. He was placed under house arrest and had to wear an electronic tracking device. His fraternity brothers gave him hell for it and he was embarrassed. It is true that getting a DUI is not fun " the hassles, the expenses, the court dates. But those penalties are in place for a reason.
I am not one to lecture people on what they should or should not do, but take it from someone who knows: Drinking and driving can kill. It is not only embarrassing to tell others that you were arrested for driving drunk, but it could cost your life or other people's lives.
I like to have fun and party, but I never get behind the wheel drunk or into a car with someone who has been drinking. I learned that lesson from my father and I hope to still be alive to pass that on to my future children.
Kara Fox is a Sierra Sun reporter in Tahoe City. Reach her at email@example.com.