Kathy Hernandez lost her 19-year-old daughter, Casey, nearly 11 years ago in a devastating car crash. Casey got behind the wheel after she had been drinking at a party where adults provided alcohol.
Dani Simien’s life was forever altered in the same crash. He was Casey’s victim, and at the time of the 2007 crash, he was just 18 years old.
Dani, now 30, became paralyzed as a result of the injuries sustained in the 2007 head-on collision, and a few years later, began working with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Kathy also became involved with MADD as a way to honor her daughter’s life.
Kathy and Dani share a unique bond, and for the last several years, they have also shared the same mission: as MADD representatives, they travel the country, often together, sharing their heartbreaking and inspiring stories with groups like ours.
We were fortunate to have them lead a plenary at our Statewide Summit.
For Dani and Kathy, every speaking opportunity is one more step toward healing and helping others.
It is also an opportunity to teach people that underage drinking and impaired driving affect everyone—even the “good kids.” Casey excelled academically and athletically, and had set her sights on a career on forensic psychology when she got behind the wheel of her Mustang after consuming an unknown amount of alcohol at a party. Dani, meanwhile, had dreams of his own. Ever since the third grade, he had dreamed of being a firefighter. “I wanted to do certain things with my life,” he shared with the audience. “Instead, I’m in a position to talk to people and tell my story.”
Dani said being an advocate through MADD’s Victim panels, in communities, and in schools has been critical to his healing. Speaking to groups allows him to achieve one of his goals, which is to reach more than one person at a time. He said he and Kathy have “the power to bring life to a story” that they hope people will hear. Beyond telling stories, Kathy and Dani have become activists and advocates. Kathy is involved with her local Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse so that she can get involved in more prevention work—such as reducing underage drinking through the passage of social host ordinances in her area.
Kathy said she would do anything to trade places with her daughter but because she can’t, she will continue to focus on prevention through advocacy.
“If I can help save parents from having to live this life, then maybe she didn’t die for nothing.”
We all have a role to play in creating a community in which young people aren’t solely responsible for their relationship to alcohol. Through community-based initiatives like social host ordinances, we can hold adults accountable while reducing youth access to alcohol at house parties and in other social situations. In doing so, we can help keep young Texans safe and healthy – not just as kids, but well into adulthood.