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Mother, son share lessons of drunken driving tragedy

December 9, 2012 12:11 am


Pam Stucky looks at picture of her late husband, Dean Stucky, with her son Phillip on a website they created to educate students and others on the dangers of drunken driving.



The Daily Progress


--Pam Stucky measures her son's age by the number of years that have passed since her husband was killed.

Phillip Stucky is 22. Now a student at the University of Virginia, he was 6 weeks old when a Naval Reserve officer with a blood-alcohol content of 0.23 percent swerved a vehicle across a double yellow line, plowing head-on into Dean Stucky's pickup truck.

Dean Stucky died quickly--mercifully--says the family of two, who have died a thousand small deaths since Sept. 9, 1990.

"I had to be a mother and father to my son, because of the choice that he made," Pam Stucky said of the driver, who served an 18-month sentence for manslaughter. "I wouldn't wish that pain on anyone."

The pair has brought their story to anyone who would listen for the past 21 years. After decades of fine-tuning and five years of brainstorming, the Stuckys have created a program geared toward young adults on the brink of entering the drunken driving danger zone--those ages 21 to 24.

Drunken drivers in their early 20s consistently account for roughly one-third of all fatal alcohol-related wrecks--more than any other age group--according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.

"Right now [college students] are forming habits and we want to make sure they are forming the right ones," Pam Stucky said. "I don't think people realize how much danger they are putting everyone around them in when they make the wrong choice."

More wrong choices are made in the last two weeks of December through New Year's Eve than at any other time of the year, according to federal safety data and advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

MADD found that impaired driving accounted for 48 percent of highway deaths during the 2010 New Year's holiday, the latest year for which data is available.

The Stuckys are hoping to reach young drivers ahead of the holidays by bringing their program, The Gift, to Grounds on Dec. 15. Harsh reality and a side of snacks will be served from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Newcomb Hall, Room 481.

"I want to be graphic, I want to be real, I want to shock," Pam Stucky said.

One method that drains the color from their faces: Participants are told to write the name of a loved one down on what appears to be a festive gift tag in school colors, only to discover that the label in question is a toe tag used to identify a corpse.

The guttural reaction, Stucky said, is the gift. It's also a feeling she knows firsthand.

"If we can just get them to think twice about whose mother, brother, sister or husband they are endangering by driving drunk, we may have helped to save a life," she said.

People connect to their story, but the strength of the presentation comes in the session of workshop activities that follow, she said. The assignments asks students to put themselves in the Stuckys' shoes and write down what their own lives would be like if a parent or guardian were taken from them.

The Stuckys have been working to help save lives since Phillip learned to walk. Some of his earliest memories involve toddling around the court-ordered classes his mother led for drunken drivers in their native Florida. He was 4 the first time someone called him a hero.

"[Telling the story] helps others, but it really helps me too," Phillip Stucky said. "Because of what I've done, I don't see myself as a victim, most days."

The pair has lobbied local and state-level politicians on policy issues in Florida and Virginia, most recently attending a signing in Virginia Beach this summer of legislation requiring convicted impaired drivers to have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle.

Their sights are set on legislation requiring all incoming Virginia college freshmen to complete The Gift or a program like it.

"I've probably spoken to 100,000 people over the years," Pam Stucky said. "You never know if you're reaching people, but if I could prevent just one person from going through what we've been through, it's worth it."

More information about The Gift can be found at

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.