Perhaps it is because, as a Panama City personal injury law firm, we spend every day working with and talking to victims, but it seems like news reports tend to spend a lot of time talking about the people who cause tragedies and very little time talking about those affected by tragic accidents. Learning more about someone who perished in a car crash, particularly one that was caused by drugs and/or alcohol, can be heart-breaking. We believe, however, that it is important to give voice to victims and to recognize the real loss that can follow a decision to drive under the influence.
Our team was deeply touched by a story in The News Herald about two lives that were lost in a recent Panama City Beach DUI crash. Mary Jo Badali, a 78- year-old woman from Destin, was looking forward to her granddaughter's wedding. Other family members from Northern Florida planned to drive to Nashville for the event, but they decided that Badali's arthritis made flying a better option for her. A close friend, 75-year-old Mary Elizabeth Birks of Fort Walton Beach, agreed to join Badali as she drove to the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. Family members say that Badali was likely talking about the wedding and her excitement at seeing her granddaughter's wedding dress as the women travelled to the airport early Saturday morning in advance of the Sunday event.
It was around 6:45 A.M. when Badali was waiting to turn onto State 79 North from U.S. 98. The car was suddenly struck from behind by a 1997 Chevrolet Blazer driven by Jonathan Noah Michael Dillard. The collision had enough force to push the Acura across the intersection. Badali and Birks were both taken to Bay Medical Center where both women died as a result of their injuries.
It is hard to imagine the moment when family members, who were no doubt looking forward to a time of celebration, learned of the fatal crash. The family elected to go ahead with the wedding, a decision that Badali's children believe would have been her wish. Upon returning to Florida, Badali's daughters told reporters that they tried to focus on giving the bride her special day despite the heartache caused by the loss of her grandmother.
When officers arrived at the scene of the crash, they found Dillard clad only in a tank top and underwear. He told police that he had consumed alcohol and taken both marijuana and LSD in recent hours. They discovered more marijuana in Dillard's pants which were found nearby. There was a brief struggle as police took him into custody. Dillard has been charged with two counts of DUI manslaughter and with a single count of resisting an officer without violence. He is being held on a $502,500 bond at Bay County Jail.
It is not easy to read the story of Saturday morning's crash. Everyone knows that driving while intoxicated is dangerous. Everyone knows that it can lead to a crash and that some DUI accidents are fatal. It is, however, too easy to gloss over statistics and to forget that there is a story behind every victim. We hope that reading about one of the many lives claimed by a DUI crash makes at least one person think twice before getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. Cab fare is nothing compared with the cost of driving under the influence.