Are You Really Prepared?

  • Published
  • By Major Dana C. McCown
  • 55th Maintenance Squadron
I'd like to share a real-life story about "being prepared." It's a scenario I wouldn't wish on anyone, but one that all of us should probably discuss with our families. 

Are you really prepared for a family tragedy? 

On the military side, we talk about keeping our affairs in order and keeping our wills updated, but if you've ever experienced a family tragedy, most of us would say that's not enough. 

On June 29 my family's life changed forever because one person chose to drink and drive. In an instant my parents were killed. 

Here at Offutt, I know many of you are tired of the base harping on the subject of not drinking and driving, but in 2006, the base had 57 citations for driving under the influence and in 2008, we cut that down to 37. Overall, that's a great improvement, but in reality, that's just the 37 base personnel who were "caught" driving under the influence. I would submit to you that it's not really about getting in trouble ... it's really about not driving impaired and risking your life and the lives of others. 

Trust me, you don't want to be part of the family who can't find their parents on Sunday, and have to "go looking for them" on Monday to find out they were hit head on and tragically killed on Saturday while they were coming home from a shopping mall.
Here's some details of what happened and some questions you might want to think about: 

Sequence of Events:
-  On a Saturday afternoon, my parents were killed in Florida on US Highway 27 only 1  
    mile from their home; they died instantly, so they were taken to the medical examiner 
    vs. a hospital
-  Florida Highway Patrol's "official notification" was made at my parents' house; 
   obviously, no one was at home and when the neighbors didn't know where my sister 
   and I lived, the notification process stopped.
-  On Sunday, both my sister and I tried to call my parents. Even though we were  
    worried, we waited until Monday morning to start "looking for them."
-  First thing Monday, I had the local Sheriff's Department perform a "wellness check" on 
   their home; good news they said, "there was no sign of forced entry and both vehicles 
   were in the driveway"... problem was, my parents had three vehicles so we knew to 
   keep looking.
-  My sister and I started calling hospitals in central Florida, Tampa and then Orlando.
-  My dad was self employed so there really wasn't anyone to call, but mom's work was 
   worried as well. She worked for a car dealership so I got her license plate number and 
   called the sheriff back. He told me to call the Florida Highway Patrol.
-  While waiting on the FHP to return my call, my sister found out about our parents' 
   deaths on the internet... "Man and wife age 59 died on US Highway 27 at 5:35 pm on 
   Saturday" ... they also listed the car and location of accident so we were 99.9 percent 
   sure it was them. It was confirmed by the FHP who informed us the accident was 
   caused by a drunk driver.

Contributing Factors:
-  The driver, a 29-year-old prior Navy person, didn't learn from his first DUI conviction ... 
   he also had a suspended license and no car insurance.
-  He didn't have a wingman that day; we talk about this all of the time, but it works ... it's 
   just common sense, good judgment and Airmen taking care of Airmen.
-  The bar he had been in allowed him to leave even though he was "stumbling drunk."

Lesson's Learned:
-  Check your insurance policies ... if my parents didn't have "uninsured motorists 
    insurance," there really wouldn't have been any money to pay off the expenses.
-  Death isn't cheap ... we spent more than 30 thousand dollars to include the funeral, 
   shipping the bodies back to Kentucky, and packing up their house, most of which was 
   out of pocket at first.
-  Put "ICE" into your phone ... some organizations, such as the police and fire 
   department, may or may not look in your phones, but some do. For the ones that do, if 
   you put "ICE" (In Case of Emergency) and then your contact information, they'll call for 
   notification purposes.
-  Put an ICE card in your wallet and glove box; don't just put your spouse or person that 
   you ride with the most ... you need to have a backup plan in the worst case scenario.
-  When "looking" for someone, use all of your resources ... wellness checks with the 
   police or sheriff, highway patrol, friends, co-workers and the internet.

Are you really prepared?
-  Is your Will up to date? You don't need a will that's prepared by base legal to "be 
   legal;" my parents' had a computer generated "Best Buy" will which was witnessed  
   and notarized per Florida state law ... it cleared through probate in only two days.
-  Our family had the "talk" two years before the accident; we knew to fly the bodies back 
   to Kentucky, they wanted to be cremated versus buried, the desired funeral home and 
   all their wishes.
-  Do you know where a copy of the will and important papers are for your family?
-  Do they have a listing of all of their bills, accounts, investments, etc.? We couldn't get 
   in their home computer because it was password protected.
-  Recommend you have "contingents" listed on your life insurance policies ... most 
   people just put their spouse; in our case, it delayed the payout of one of the polices 
   and it could have led to a court case for payment.
-  Does your family have a safety deposit box, at which bank, do you have access, where  
   is the key?
-  If you have a death in your family or a change of status in your marriage, you need to 
   immediately review your DD Form 93, your insurance beneficiaries and your will!

The bottom line is if you choose to drink and drive, it's a personal decision and the real "deterrent" shouldn't be that the Air Force will hold you to a higher standard. It should be when you're under the influence, you run the risk of misjudging a situation which may require an instant decision or reaction. If impaired, that could result in you taking the life of or maiming an innocent victim. 

No matter what, we all need to truly have our personal affairs in order. I beg you to talk to your family and have that discussion ... it will help the heart if the time ever comes. And by the way, in case you were wondering, the drunk driver lived, jumped bail and is now listed on Florida's Most Wanted web site.