Kentucky

Bardstown mother shares her tragedy to prevent others

Rose'Shell Davidson (cq) shown at her booth she set up for the Kentucky Proscecutors Conference on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010 at Lexington Center in Lexington, Ky.  In 2000, Bardstown's Rose'Shell Davidson lost two children to a drunk driver. Now she has an innovative program called DUI, Alcohol and Drug Corrections Victims Impact Program (or VIP), that she uses to deter drunk driving.  Photo by David Perry | Staff
Rose'Shell Davidson (cq) shown at her booth she set up for the Kentucky Proscecutors Conference on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010 at Lexington Center in Lexington, Ky. In 2000, Bardstown's Rose'Shell Davidson lost two children to a drunk driver. Now she has an innovative program called DUI, Alcohol and Drug Corrections Victims Impact Program (or VIP), that she uses to deter drunk driving. Photo by David Perry | Staff

Rose'Shell Davidson says she told her son he could have the bathroom scale he had called to borrow. John said, "Mom, just put it on the front porch because I'm going to come by late."

Davidson said she'd wait up.

He came by, a little after midnight that Saturday morning, May 27, 2000. He had his sister, Jennifer, with him. Her car was in the shop. He'd just picked her up from work.

Jennifer yelled out of the passenger seat. "I love you. I'd get out, but I'm too tired."

John kissed his mother on the cheek three times before he left. "I love you, Mom," he said as he drove away.

Seven minutes later, John, 29, was dead, and Jennifer, 21, was flown to the University of Louisville Hospital. Jennifer died four days later.

Both were victims of a man who drank so much on his 48th birthday that he had a fleeting thought he ought to call a cab but didn't.

Davidson, who is from Bardstown, is in Lexington on Friday with the Kentucky Prosecutors Conference at the Lexington Convention Center to talk to commonwealth and county attorneys about what she did next.

Well, not immediately after.

"I kept praying to die," said Davidson, now 68. "Then God spoke to me and told me I wasn't going to die. Instead, he said to see if I could save a few lives."

She had only her story to tell and her pictures to show. So, in 2004, she went to first assistant Hardin County attorney Jenny Pitts Oldham and suggested a victim impact program. The idea was to talk to DUI offenders about the devastation of loss, to the families of the victims and to their own.

The program began in 2007 and has, from the start, been successful, said Pitts Oldham, who will become the Hardin County attorney in January. So far, Pitts Oldham said, in the three full years of the program, it has seen only two recidivists.

A similar program was started by Davidson in Washington County, Ind., about the same time. It has had only one repeat offender.

Pitts Oldham lauds the program as "one more tool in the arsenal against drunk driving." She said it's her job as a prosecutor to put a face on a murder victim in a trial and that sometimes that is impossible when someone is charged with drunken driving and spends only a day in jail.

This class, in Hardin County, at least is court-ordered and its $50 cost is paid for by the offender, who must listen for 21/2 hours to Davidson, who will offer them a lesson on Christian brotherhood and a bit of grisly truth as she passes around pictures of John folded up in the car before he was extricated in his too-early death 10 years ago.

It's Davidson who puts the face on the crime.

"But she does it without a lecture," Pitts Oldham said. "That's what's great."

And that's what's reflected in the thousand or more letters that she has on hand from offenders. In them, she is thanked for changing their lives, asked to be forgiven and promised they would never drive drunk again as long as they lived.

Davidson is hopeful. She is also forgiving.

After serving five years on a 12-year sentence for double manslaughter, the man charged in John and Jennifer's deaths was up for parole. Davidson went to the board and asked that he be allowed to go home to his children. He had been made a quadriplegic. He had been punished enough.

"Besides, hating him would make me sick," she said.

It does not stop her from showing a video of him in his prison cell, unable to take a drink by himself, unable to ever again drive.

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