Barely a dry eye was left in the room as men and women both listened to the heart-wrenching story of one mom — a mom who lost her child.
His mom, his dad, his family, his friends, his community and his world lost a bright, promising young man.
They lost him — Dustin Ledford — due to a tragic event.
A preventable event.
“A tragedy that no one can imagine,” said Sally Poston, DVM at her Medical Animal Center, as she introduced Kim Ledford to Bradley Sunrise Rotary recently.
Ledford’s 24-year-old son died on July 10, 2010, after being hit by an impaired driver going the wrong way on APD 40.
Those present at Sunrise Rotary listened with rapt attention and heavy hearts as Ledford told of how she lost her only son.
“Our life was taken away from us last year,” Ledford said. On a July evening, Dustin’s car was hit by an impaired driver going the wrong way on APD 40. He died in the hospital later that night.
Dustin was the Ledfords’ only son. Previously, she had given a daughter up for adoption. Later, she had to have a hysterectomy.
“His way is not our way,” Ledford said, as she was soon to find out. Not long after her operation, through the family’s church, the couple was asked if they would adopt a little baby boy — on the same day her daughter had been born.
Dustin Ledford was born on Oct. 15, 1985.
His favorite Bible verse was II Timothy 1:7, which goes: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” His life’s motto was: Live wide open. Live life to the fullest.
“He was the light of our lives,” Ledford said.
On that tragic night, Dustin’s girlfriend called his mom, worried, because she hadn’t heard from him. She was concerned something had happened to him.
“I knew something was wrong,” Ledford said. The family started calling hospitals, police stations. “Yes,” she was finally told. “Your son was in a car accident. The doctor is with him now. I can’t tell you anything else.”
As the young man’s parents raced to get to the hospital, another call came to Ledford’s phone.
“Your son has succumbed to his injuries,” she heard from the other end of the line, the words she most dreaded. Her husband wanted to know what was going on.
“Just get to the hospital as fast as you can,” she told him.
After what must have seemed like an eternity, they finally pulled into a hospital parking space.
“My son is dead, isn’t he?” the boy’s father turned to ask his wife.
A roomful of Dustin’s friends were already waiting at the hospital when the parents arrived.
“I don’t remember much of the next few days,” Ledford said. “I couldn’t stop crying.”
Eventually, they all came to learn that an intoxicated woman, going the wrong way, had crashed into Dustin’s car. She was arrested weeks later and charged with vehicular homicide with intoxication, as well as with two counts of abandonment of children. Her blood alcohol level was 2.4 — two times the legal limit.
“One fourth of her blood was alcohol,” Ledford said. “And methamphetamines were also in her system.”
She was sentenced on Aug. 8, 2011, to 10 years in the Tennessee Department of Corrections.
“But we were given a life sentence,” his mother said. “Dustin had his whole life in front of him and a drunk driver took away his hopes and dreams.”
That’s why the Ledfords have been the force behind trying to pass Dustin’s Law through the Tennessee Legislature. Currently, the bill has passed through and gotten approval from all necessary committees.
“A car is as much a loaded weapon as a gun,” Ledford said. Just this past summer, according to Ledford, five alcohol deaths occurred. Ledford cited statistics: on average, a driver will drive drunk 81 times before getting caught and, over any given weekend, a much greater percentage of people on the road are intoxicated. “This is a preventable crime. Somehow we’ve got to make (Dustin’s Law) happen.”
This law would create stricter punishments for vehicular homicide cases. The bill, in part, reads:
SUMMARY OF BILL: Broadens the Class A felony offense of aggravated vehicular homicide by adding to the existing prohibited blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of twenty-hundredths of one percent (or .20 percent), the alternative prohibited blood concentrations of either a BAC of eight-hundredths of one percent (or .08 percent) or a blood concentration of any amount of methamphetamine. Removes the current requirement that a defendant has prior conviction for either driving under the influence (DUI) or vehicular assault in conjunction with the prohibited BAC.
Currently, this bill is in limbo due to budget issues.
“But you can’t put a price on my child’s life ...,” she said, “... on anyone’s life.”
Ledford is asking others to call their legislators to ask them to get Dustin’s Law passed — and passed as soon as possible. North Carolina already has a similar law in place, called Laura’s Law.
“If North Carolina has it, Tennessee needs it. We have to do something to stop this (crime),” she said. “I’m fighting for Dustin.”
The Ledfords are also in the process of setting up a scholarship for a local athlete who has been affected by a drunk driver. The family also has made bracelets available to remind people wearing them not to drink and drive.As Kim Ledford ended her story of the untimely death of her son, a surprising number of those in the audience approached her with their own tragic drunk-driving car accident stories.
One such story was told by Mark Rodgers, president of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary, about his brother. Rodgers first heard of his brother’s death by a drunk driver over the radio.
“It still hurts, 35 years later,” Rodgers, said. The drunk driver who killed his brother only got sentenced to 18 months, but was out in less than a year. “The pain doesn’t get easier.”
But his was just one of many who came forward to tell of their tragedies caused by a drunk driver, proving Ledford’s point that these tragedies are widespread and emphasizing her plea that they need to be stopped as quickly as possible.