DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A new study by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) found that one in four 12th grade students got drunk in the last month, and Texas leads the nation in drunk driving crashes and fatalities. With prom season now underway, there is a strong push to keep teens from drinking and getting behind the wheel.
Renee Varela lost her son to an underage drunk driver. Anthony Varela was in the midst of looking for a career. He loved music and had just spoken with a military recruiter. It has been two years since Anthony’s death, but Renee said that the pain is still raw. “They had a green light,” she said. “An underage 19-year-old drunk driver, two times over the limit, was going 80 mph. Ran the red light and hit the vehicle my son was in.”
That crash happened at the intersection of Bruton Road and Buckner Boulevard, in the Pleasant Grove area of Dallas. Word quickly spread, and one of Anthony’s closest friends told Renee about the terrible wreck.
Renee stood face-to-face with the drunk driver in court. Aldo Valderrama pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault, and Renee remembers how he trembled. “I felt bad for him,” she said, “because he was alone. And they were going to sentence him that day, and he had no family members with him.”
Valderrama received a 12-year and 10-year prison sentence to be served concurrently.
“He’s going to get out and be able to have a girlfriend, wife, kids,” said Renee. “That’s something I’m never going to get from my son.”
But the Dallas mom is now reaching out to make sure that other teens make it home safely. She wants others who drink and drive to know about the tough decisions that her family had to make after Anthony’s death — like whether or not to donate his organs. “Knowing my son the way that I knew him, he loved to help people,” Renee said. “So, I knew that’s what he would have wanted to do.”
Five months after Anthony’s death, Renee got to meet Eric Ford, the man who received her son’s heart and kidney. And Renee listened to that heart beat again. Anthony Varela’s organs, skin, tissue and bones helped keep a total of 114 people alive and well. Now, his mother hopes to save the lives of even more people.
Renee reaches out to anyone who is willing to hear her story, especially at graduation time, when many underage people decide to drink. “I just want them to know that drinking, even though people may tell them that it’s fun and stuff like that, it’s very dangerous,” Renee said. “And I wouldn’t want anybody to have to bury their child like I had to bury mine.”
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