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Hi, this is Jeff Weinstein of Weinstein Law. And you've heard me say this before but I have to say it again. And, please don't take it the wrong way. This is just my personal opinion. If you drink and drive, I don't like you. I don't care if your family and friends think you hung the moon. If you engage in such a selfish act that you're willing to risk danger to other people on something that is completely avoidable, I don't like you. And I hope that you'll listen to the folks that are on the good show, because the show is not about Jeff Weinstein. The show is unfortunately about victims that should never have had to have their story told. Because this is a completely senseless crime. And our mission is to hopefully bring enough awareness where people will stop engaging in such conduct. And start thinking about the effect that their actions will have on others. Today we are so lucky to have Tammy Branch with us. Tammy, are you there?
Hi, I'm here.
Oh, good. So Tammy, thank you so much for taking time out of your sunday afternoon. I really appreciate it. And I know that folks will really be hard struck by your personal story involving drunk driving. And I would love if you wouldn't mind, if you would just share with us a little bit of about your experience, and why you are where you are today on this issue.
OK, well thank you for having me Jeff. A little over a year and a half ago, January 15th, at around 9:40 in the evening, I got a phone call from a teenager who had apparently just passed a crash site, to informed me that my son was dead and that the driver of the vehicle was on his way to Tower, to one of the Tower hospitals. And I got dressed. I left my then 13 year old son in the care of my brother. And my husband and I jumped in the car. Ran every red light, broke every speed law to get just over a mile away from home. And when they first took us to crash site, I remember seeing the utility pole that had been literally split into three pieces. And I remember looking and it was a double transformer. So the top half of the telephone pole of that heavy double transformer was not even touching the ground. And the power lines were stretched beyond what anybody can imagine. And I remember turning looking at him and saying that isn't good.
And then we took methods of defense. And that's hard, because as we could get, because by that time the police car was there blocking our way in. And we both set out and started running. And the police officer that was blocking the traffic from coming that way wouldn't let me pass. And I kept telling her no. That's my son. I have to go to my son. She wouldn't let me. And eventually I think I just kind of gave up at that point. And I kept going down on my knees and begging to please let me see my son. And she finally tells me ma'am, I am a mother, and I can't let you go through that as another mother. My husband managed to get past her, and I remember her radioing to the officers at the crash site, and she gave a physical description of him. And you know, I was still trying at this point to get by, and she wouldn't let me in. And he came running back to me a few minutes later. And he said, he's gone momma. He looks like he's sleeping. And I started screaming. I didn't know what to do. And then one of the first responders that I had known for quite a few years, because he a friend of my children, came up to us and was helping us, and trying to talk to us. And was telling me that I didn't want to go out there, and I did. And he walked us back over to the car. And then another officer came over a few minutes later and was talking to us.
In the mean time, my oldest son pulled up behind us because my youngest brother called him, and told him momma and daddy got a call that Bubba was in a crash, or an accident. And so he had come up behind us. And by this time my husband and I were sitting in the car. And my son said, will somebody please tell me what's going on with my brother? And my husband tells him, he's gone son. He's gone. And so, my oldest one beat the crap out of the back of my car. And then we had to wait. I was not leaving the scene until Eric left the scene. And so we waited on their judge to pronounce. And then we waited on [? Eubanks ?] to pick him up and take him before we would leave.
And then we left and we went home, at started making phone calls. And people were showing up at midnight. And I don't remember my brothers came. And I remember, at three o'clock-- because I had been up since five o'clock thursday morning --at three o'clock friday morning I was still awake sitting in my living room. And I remember thinking, I don't know whether they took my son. And so I called the Gun Barrel police department, and they said, we don't know. You don't have to call the funeral home. And I most probably did know, because back in the deep recesses of my mind, I know that in the state of Texas if you die in a car crash, you're automatically tested for an autopsy. I knew it. I just couldn't think of it.
So I called the funeral home, and they called back. And I asked where they took him, and he told me that they say took him to [? GT ?] Southwestern for an autopsy. And the only thing that I could think of at that moment was will we be able to have an open casket funeral? And he said, ma'am your son has been in a very serious accident. And I promise you that we will do everything that we can. Of course that was not comforting. Because I wanted to know. I mean, Eric was my vain child. Everything had to be perfect. Color coordinated. Hair cut just so perfectly. He would lay his head across my lap and I would wax his eyebrows. And all of a sudden, that came to a screeching halt. So, the next morning I went to talk to Judge Helmer from [? my bank. ?] And while I was there I heard a call from the organ transplant donation, still out of Dallas. And they told me that they heard from the [? ME ?] that there were still transplantable things with Eric. We knew the organs couldn't be. And I told them I couldn't talk about this right now. So I went home and talked to my husband. And we both agreed that since Eric had been a blood donor, we felt fairly certain that this was something that he would want to do. So we agreed to donate bone tissue, the [? stuff ?] in his veins and the corneas. And it wasn't until three months later we found out the corneas could not be transplanted, because there was so much [UNINTELLIGIBLE] in his eyes.
So we went through the trauma of dealing with that. And then his body was not being released to Department [? Hillcrest ?] which is who we chose for the funeral home. And so we had to get all that straightened out on Saturday. And then sunday, we went to make the funeral arrangements. And you know, when you've been in a funeral home, you know those big oversized doors, you know what's going on behind there. And I remember thinking, I can't go past those doors. And I kind of [? crept ?] in the hallway. And they helped me out, and moved me back. And we started making arrangements. And I found out-- after everything was said and done --that a parent's hope and wish is that that's not their child. And I found out that since the night of the crash, there has not been a family positive ID. So my brother had to go in and view his body, and positively identify him. Just thinking that that was somebody else's child, and mine's just hanging out with somebody, and not thinking to call me.
Eric was one of those who didn't like to be away from home. He might go for a night or two. But he would not go for long. He spent five days in Mexico for work and called me every day, miserable, I'm ready to come home. And when he finished with work and came home, he didn't go back to anywhere. He was home every night for the next week. So it's a very rough deal to have to go through.
Tammy, at the time of Eric's tragic death, he's 19 years old?
He was 18 years, nine months and seven days.
And, I've got to tell you, thank you, because if one person hears what you've just told us and decides to never drink and drive again, you will have accomplished some mission in Eric's name. You know?
I hope so.
And I've got to tell you, it's a shame that this is live, because I've got to hold back my tears now hearing your story. You've told this story now, how many times do you think you've told this story?
Yeah. Does it ever change for you? Just the emotion, this feeling? Is there a moment that goes by?
No. If I'm doing a victim's impact panel, or I'm doing something that I know ahead of time that I'm going to talk about this, I have a script that I made up last december when I did my first victim's impact panel. And it basically, not in as great detail as you have heard. But I just basically read that over and over again for a few days, until I'm sure I can get at least halfway through without cracking. But spur of the moment stuff? There are days that I can talk about him and not cry at all. And then there's days that--
Do you call those the good days?
There's not a good day, no. Now it's either a bad day or it's just a day. And I know in the morning, when I get up out of bed, what kind of day that it's going to be. And I can't say that I haven't had good days. I mean, I've had another grandchild born since Eric's death. That was probably the best day I've had.
But those are moments. Those aren't days. You're saying you have pleasurable moments. But the days must be incredibly difficult for your family. Not only on you, but on your husband and your other children. How have they been affected by Eric's loss?
My oldest one was the last family member to see Eric that day. Eric had gone to Lowe's here in Gun Barrel, and had applied for a job the week before. And they called him in. And he had his interview that day. And his brother took him that morning to get his haircut, sit outside Lowe's and waited for him. Eric came outside doing what he was telling them with his lawn and garden dance, because he's just got that job. He was all excited, and Ricky brought him back to our house. And a little bit later, left. And that was the last time that we saw him. And Ricky takes it very hard. He is not much as far as showing his outward emotions. Something really has to get to him for him to let everybody see him cry. But he does take it hard. My youngest one, of course, chose to go in [? my bank. ?] And a lot of his teachers also knew Eric. And he looks a lot like Eric, except for he's a little bit thicker. Eric was skinny and Ryan is a little bit thicker. And he has teachers inadvertently calling him Eric. And he's still in counseling with the school. And he still has a lot of bad days. When me moved in the house we're in now, we put Eric's ashes on the fireplace. So I guess, according to Ryan, that's the first thing you look at when you walk in the door. And we started having some issues to where he didn't even want to be at the house. And he started getting into a little bit of trouble, and when we finally got it out of him what was wrong, he said every time he walks in the front door, that's what he saw. So we have to compromise. He's portable. We can move him. And that's what we did. I took him out of the living room and putting him in my bedroom.
And Eric's dad, he still has a lot of anger. He suffers from depression, anxiety. And he's still on medication. I finally quit taking mine. I'm just not a pill person. I can't do it. But he still has to take medication for it. And yesterday when Leslie recognized me at the walk. I looked down at my husband Paul and there's where I cracked. I can't see him cry and then not cry. And it's very difficult. Because you never know from day to day, what your emotions are going to be. You never know from day to day how are you going to be feel. If you're going to be mad, if you're going to be sad. Or a lot of days I'm just hurt.
Can you share with us-- and by the way it must be a true testament to your marriage. Because as I understand the statistics, it's really hard for a family to stay together. So kudos to you and your husband, as hard as I'm sure it is being able to keep things together. Very difficult. Who are you mad at?
You know, some days I'm mad at Eric. Because Eric knew. I can't tell you how many times he would call me in the middle of the night to come get him. I know a lot of people probably won't agree with you, but I remember being a teenager, and I remember what I did when I was a teenager. And I think that if my parents had talked to me about the things that I talked to my kids about, that I probably would've gotten in a lot less trouble. But because I remembered that my deal with my boys was I know that once you leave here, you're probably going to do something that I don't want you to do. I'm not saying it's OK. I'm not giving you permission. But if you get to this person's house or wherever you're going, and y'all are drinking, all you to do is pick up the phone and call me. There will be no repercussions.
A lot of kids in the lake area are binge drinkers, and Eric is also. So in order to try to help him and his friends, they all knew that they could call me. Eric's not the only one of the kids that I would pick up. And that didn't happen very often. I think I had to pick him up about seven times. But I can guarantee you, that may not have been the first time he didn't call me to come pick him up, but it was certainly the last. And a lot of times you go back and think maybe I was too lenient. And then I think, no, because look at all these kids whose parents don't realize what they're doing. Who don't want to believe what they're doing. And they're killed just as well. The difference was I was aware that my child probably would do it. And so I gave him the option to have that safe ride home.
Well I think most of us as parents-- I m parent of three daughters, 12, 10 and eight years old --and you and I, it's just so right. You know the conduct's going to take place. What more could you have done? I don't know the answer to that. I don't think there is a satisfactory answer. I think you did everything as a parent you would hope would be enough. And so you know, you think about it. It's somewhat roulette-like, where it's just one very small poor decision. And these are the consequences.
Yeah, and that decision that night was made on anger. He was mad, so he got in the car with a friend who had a blood alcohol level of 0.19. And my son was no angel. My son had a blood alcohol level of 0.12. But my son wasn't the driver. And I go through this over and over in my head. And I don't think that I could have done anything different, but there's always that question because he's not here for me to ask.
And that looms large, doesn't it? I know, for whatever reason our normal reaction is we feel like we must place the blame. So I take it that part of what you're going through is you feel some blame.
I do. Mainly because that day there were so many things that were different than our normal day. Take for instance, Eric was never awake when I left for work. That morning, he was awake and had heartburn. And had come downstairs to get something from heartburn. And then reminded me that he needed 20 dollars to get his haircut, and that he had that job interview. Then early that afternoon at the job I was working at, we weren't supposed to have personal phone calls. And he had called my work line to try to get me to give him his brother's house number because his brother wasn't answering his cellphone. And I was like, don't call my work. I get in trouble for this. OK mom, I love you, bye. And he hung up. And I mean, I can look back and see that there were things that were not what I was considered normal for the day. And that almost makes you wonder if that was a tell-tale sign that something was going to happen. Because you just don't know.
In your profession, you come across people that have had these types of things happen to them, right?
Yeah, now that I'm a volunteer for MADD, I do.
Before, you had not really had any kind of personal experience with someone being injured from drunk driving?
Yes, I have. Eric was the third drunk driving fatality in my family since 1937.
So it's not only you, but Eric was aware and his brothers are aware. Does that in any way kind of influence decision making for your family?
I think it does. My oldest one, even on his 21st birthday, he wouldn't even drink. Which I'm glad of. I think we are a lot quicker now to recognize things that we wouldn't have before. We pay attention to somebody swerving now. Whereas before, even with me, I would've thought, well they're just blinking their eyes or getting a drink or something. But now, yes, I'm a proper aware.
You're much more defensive.
Yes. I drive defensively now. A lot more than I normally had before. You go through such a change that I can tell you with complete honesty that nobody in my family is the same person that we were before January 15th of last year. And the changes that have been brought about, for me the changes are just that I have one third of my heart that has been ripped out. Same for my husband. And my youngest of my children, Eric picked on him a lot, and I used to laugh and tell Eric, you know what, when he gets 18 years old he's going to beat the crap out of you and I'm going to sit back and laugh. And that's not going to happen now. And if Eric had called Ricky, come get me dude, I can't stand being here anymore. And Ricky would come get him. He had he a nephew, our friend's son, and he would put him on his shoulders and carry him around. Loved picking on him. Eric just had that pick on people personality. And there's nobody here that's like that anymore. And every aspect of your life has changed. Nothing's the same, and you can't get it back.
When you're doing the victims impact panel-- and maybe some people don't really know what that means --people who have been accused of and may have pled guilty are now required as part of their probation to listen to you speak of how this has affected your family.
Do you see in these folks? Do they get it? When you're talking to them, do they get it?
Some of them do. You'd be surprised. The first victim's impact panel I did, I guess everybody must understand that I had Eric cremated. So Eric is very portable. And he goes with me to all of these victim impact panels. Anything I do for MADD, he goes with me. And I take a picture, one of the senior pictures, because I'm a firm believer that you're a nobody without a name and a face. Nobody's going to know who you are when I'm up there. So we have him, and then I say a little bit about the crash, and I turn him around. And by the end there are quite a few in tears, because I will take the top off of his urn, and I will take his ashes out and I'll show them that is what five foot 11 and 185 pounds gets you when you did. And there has been several of these that I've done that there have been quite a few crying. You have the couple that there's stoics, they don't want to say anything or do anything. And they have a little form that they have to fill out after each forum. And one of those questions is what could we do differently in these victims impact panels to help the next group? And most of the time, they say nothing. That it was very good. That they're going to turn their lives around and not do it again. And then you have the ones that don't believe they should have to be in the room with us to do it. And those are probably going to be the hardest ones to reach, but those are the ones that need to be reached the most.
Still in denial?
The family friend, did he recover from his injuries?
Is there a relationship there with your family.
Not right now. Not right now. I went to him three weeks after the crash, because he is somebody I know. Because he has stayed in my house, and I do care about him. I went to him three weeks after Eric's death, and I said, look, you get into whatever AA you need to get into. You go to rehab, you get clean, you get straight, and I will stand beside you 100 percent at the wake. Because I firmly believed that he would learn. I really felt like he would learn. Because he's not a stupid guy. But he didn't learn, not at that time. He continued doing the same things that did cause Eric's death. And so I finally went to the DA and I said, look enough is enough. When my own brother takes him home because he was so drunk he couldn't walk somewhere. My own brother took him home, and then didn't want to tell me about it for a few days because he was afraid I would get mad. And I said, no, you know, you're between a rock and a hard place. Do you take him home and make sure his mother gets to see him another day? Or do you seal the deal and make her pay? So it has been very difficult. And I have had one letter from him. But again, when there's all that denial, I just don't feel like he's learned his lesson. Not yet. You know, he'll get to come home and see his little boy. He'll get to come home and hold him. And be with his wife. That's something that Eric will never have the chance to do.
It's gotta be so hurtful that-- and again, you're not going to believe this Tammy --we have 90 seconds, and we didn't even talk about Walk Like MADD. And I hope you're not offended that we didn't get to talk about Walk Like MADD, which you as a volunteer put together and did a wonderful job. You put this walk together. There's basically 60 of them across the country. You raised more money in little bitty Gun Barrel City Texas than several major city walks throughout the United States of America. Would you do me this one favor?
Would you come back soon, next sunday, a couple sundays from now, whenever. We could talk about Eric forever. Would you come back though and talk about Walk Like MADD so that people can hear all the great things that you and your team did to raise awareness on behalf of MADD?
I certainly will.
And, I'm sorry. I told you when we chatted before, the 30 minutes will go by quickly.
Yes, and it did.
And I've gotta tell you, we have 10 seconds, and I just want you to know, Tammy Branch, I am so sorry about your loss, but all of us are so much better for you sharing this experience with us, so that we learn to do better.
Thank you. No, thank you. Thank you. OK, I'm going to buzz you right back. Is that OK?
I'll buzz you right back. OK, bye bye.
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