HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - People who've lost loved ones to drunk drivers are using their stories of heartbreak to convince convicted drunk drivers to stop getting behind the wheel while under the influence. Gulf Coast Deter formed back in May to fight drunk and drug impaired driving. Each month, members say they put on a victims' panel. The audience is made up of people convicted of their first DUI conviction and mandated by the courts to attend.
Elaine Thomas is one of the founders of the organizations. On December 24th, 1994, she and her granddaughter Carla were headed home when they crossed paths with a drunk driver driving on the wrong side of the road. Thomas says the collision knocked her car into a ditch.
"I started calling out for Carla, but Carla didn't answer me," said Thomas. "I knew she had her seatbelt on in back seat.
Thomas says it wasn't until a passer-by helped her get out that she realized something was terribly wrong.
"When I got out that's when I saw her, he didn't have to tell me that she was gone. I had known it then," Thomas said.
After the nine year old's death, Thomas wanted to help keep other families from the pain she'd suffered. That's why she and other members of Gulf Coast Deter tell their stories to convicted drunk drivers.
"We hope by the end of the session that these people understand why we're doing this," she said. "It does take a lot out of you to do this, and you have to relive this every time you do it."
This Christmas Eve will make 15 years since Thomas lost her beloved granddaughter. Now, with another holiday season approaching, she's working with Gulf Coast Deter to encourage people to think carefully about their party plans.
Thomas said, "They know they're going to drink, and they know they're going to need a ride home. All I ask is just make your plans, and make sure you have someone to pick you up. Take a taxi. Taxi cabs are not that expensive. A life is worth that much."
Thomas says she grieves for the life of little girl who never got the chance to grow up.
A teary-eyed Thomas said, "I often wonder, you know, how her life would have turned out, and what she would have been doing right now."
Gulf Coat Deter officials say they are developing a program that counsels under aged people convicted of having alcohol or illegal drugs. If you would like to volunteer call 228-831-4608.