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Hi. This is Jeff Weinstein of Weinstein Law and as I've said before this show is dedicated to the victims and the families of those that have been harmed by drunk drivers and I'm beginning to rather just call it impaired drivers not call it drunk drivers, but more importantly this show is about sharing stories about the things these families go through that have dealt with drunk driving that they are going through and I mean no disrespect to you out there when I say to those of you that drink and drive -- I personally don't lie to you. It concerns me greatly that we would allow such selfish acts to take place and with us today is Tammi Branch. Tammi has been with us last week -- She is not there yet so hopefully Tammi would be in there in just a few moments. She was trying to dial in. Tammi are you there? Tammi? Hello? Tammi are you there? Tammi?
Tammi are you there? Tammi are you there?
I can hear him.
Hey! There you are.
Do you hear me now?
Tammi Branch, Hey! How are you?
I'm good. I've been calling in for like 10 minutes now.
I am so sorry. I am so sorry. I am on some highway in Kansas, driving -- That I think I told you, my daughter and I -- we're going up to Nebraska.
Oh no. I didn't know.
Okay. So we're in the middle of nowhere, but no offense to anybody from Kansas, I don't really know where I am. So, I'm trying to make it in to Oklahoma to head back towards Texas. Hey! Sorry for the inconvenience, but I'm glad we're chatting. I want to hear about what the Walk Like MADD is?
Oh Walk Like MADD is a signature 5K walk from others against drunk driving and it's one of their major fund raisers and it is just -- it's an experience. It is definitely an experience that everyone should go out and do, at least once in their lives.
Let's back up for a second. This is Tammi Branch and Tammi's family has suffered a tragic loss of her son and that was about a year ago, due to a collision involving drunk driving and so you got involved in MADD although reluctantly as I recall our story?
And so how is it that you got involved with the walk? Because you know, most folks might think that every MADD, you know, throughout the whole country has a walk like this, but they all don't, so how did you get started with the walk?
Well, I found out just a month after Eric was killed that they were having a Walk Like MADD in Dallas. And so, when I pull off last year, we did our first walk back then and then I found out later on that when I did that Walk Like MADD, the $2500 that I and my team raised went towards Dallas victims to serve as an education. And that the people who went to court with me, and you know, provided me with all the assistance that I had, that money is not shared between the regions. So, I did the Dallas walk again this year and all the while during the Dallas walk, we had it and then work for us to get what MADD now calls a Walk in a Box, which is just -- it's a volunteer-driven walk instead of an employee-driven walk, that you know, you're not going to raise as much money as the Dallas walk or the Austin walk, so that we put that in the works, you know, we tried, we got -- all my background history done and just as wheels in motion.
So, you -- the Dallas Walk Like MADD is actually sponsored by the MADD employees?
Yes. It is run by the MADD employees.
Okay. All right. And that's the reason why the walk that you helped put together, in my opinion is so unique because -- and you called it walk -- what you call it? Something a box?
Walk in a Box. If you look on the MADD website or the Walk Like MADD website and you click on Gun Barrel City, you'll see that it says Walk in a Box.
What is that?
It's just a scaled-down version of the Walk Like MADD, it's the difference between being employed-driven and volunteer-driven.
All right. And I think it is important for everybody to know that you know, that what happened in Gun Barrel City was volunteer-driven, I mean, yeah you have the support of the regional office from MADD in Tyler, but this was all volunteer-based, the big scheme of things, right?
And you had a great team of people as I understand it, who was on the committee work?
Oh my gosh, I had Diane Russ, DeAnna Browning, Paula Odom, Robby Robertson, Myself, Bette, who worked from the DA's office at the moment, her name is just -- her last name has just escaped me. [Crosstalk]
We call that a senior moment in my office.
I had those a lot lately. [Laughs] Oh we have those --
You had a -- so you had a great committee of people from -- you have some people from Athens, you have some folks from the Lake Area. That was a great committee.
Yes it was. I had the District Attorney's Office on board, I had county attorney, Jannell Dunnington, she was with the Sheriff's Department.
And then, you know, just --
How did you put this committee together?
You know its funny because when I first started talking about doing this, I was talking to DeAnna Browning at the District Attorney's Office and I told her I wanted to get one of these down here and she said "well if you do, I want to be on your committee" and I said, "Okay" and that's how it started. And then with her help, she brought in everybody else. Paula, Jannell, Diane, Bette, Robby, everybody that was there. She brought them all in.
And how long did it take you to actually plan for the walk?
If I recall correctly from start to finish, it was right about four months.
And so you guys get a lot of work in a short period of time.
Yes, we did. We certainly did.
And what was your -- initially, you hoped that how many people would walk? I mean, not you know, when you guys first got together and you had your committee meeting, what was the hope?
The hope was that we would have 100 walkers give or take and be able to raise about $5000, and we felt at that point that that was a stretch.
Now, you have some information I take it from Leslie and lots of other folks over at the MADD Regional Office in Tyler about these other Walk in a Box, how much they had raised. Is that kind of where you guys got these figures from?
No. What we did was we passed to them the economy, how poor the economy is, and the fact that down here in Henderson County, there are still a lot of people that drink and drive and there are still going to be some opposition with anything related to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, so that's why we shot everything low. We were just hoping we could get that.
All right. As the committee kind of gel together, I take that your goals increased.
Our goals did increase.
You got more optimistic.
We got a lot more optimistic. When we hit the $5000 mark, we increased our goal to $8,000. Then when they hit the $8000 mark, we increased it to $10,000. By the time we get to $10,000 mark, we went ahead and increase it to $15,000 and just less than that. And by the time it was all said and done, the committee...
And don't get there about yet.
Oh, not yet.
Oh, no, no. You got to leave these people on the edge of their seat.
Don't give that number out just yet. Okay. So, you had -- ultimately, how many volunteers did you have in one formal fashion? Either on the committee or helping you with day arrangements, etc.
We had probably I'm going to say seven or eight committee total, and that includes Leslie and Amanda, and then we had Cooper of course. They're not on the committee. They were just there to answer questions for. And then the day of the walk -- we did not have a whole lot of volunteers except for the committee while it was in the planning stages, but then the day of the walk, I think we estimated about 50 people there to help us out.
Wow. Okay. You and I discussed a little bit about the walk itself but I don't think we ever really shared with any of the listeners because we spoke about Eric last time. So, let's just give people a general idea last Saturday of what happened.
Last Saturday, we had -- and I was at the site at 6 o'clock trying to put everything. We were all there at 6 trying to get everything in place and where it needed to go. We had the Gun Barrel Fire Department, the code enforcement. We had all of those people helping us. By the time we got everything going and got everything started, we had a trailer up there that we used for a stage. That was just something else we needed to be above everybody else. So, we got there and got it all set up, got all over vendors in place and once we got all of those in, we had the opening ceremony at 8:30. By this time, you know, we felt fairly certain that all of our walkers would be there. Leslie talked and gave recognition to the top team and the top walker and she recognized me and made a blubbering idiot and started crying. And then, a few minutes later, we had a memorial balloon released for the victims and their families, and from there, we took off on a 2.4-mile journey. It's very cathartic doing that. It releases a lot of emotions. We walked from behind the Gun Barrel Fire Department to the Bell's parking lot and came back and all had shot down the far right lane eastbound for -- no, westbound, I'm sorry -- and the best part about that for me I think was those people may have seen the back of our shirt as we were walking away from the fire department, but as we were walking back, they had to see our faces and they felt a bit they saw the faces of the victims and their families and their friends and they saw the faces of the people who want change.
So, you anticipated a hundred walkers. How many walkers did you ultimately have?
We ultimately ended up with more than 270.
Yes. 270, but we have not finished them, putting them all in yet.
All right. And you also had some other folks join in, some motorcycle clubs as I understand.
Yes, we did, but Blue Knights, which is an officer -- what's the best word to give it -- I mean, they're not a motorcycle gang, but they are a law enforcement motorcycle club.
They are law enforcement gang. They are party.
They were a party.
Okay. And how many of those guys showed up?
I believe at last count, we had about 50.
We had one group that left right after the walkers did and then we had a group coming from Waco that was just a little bit late but they still came out and did it.
That's awesome. So, these bikers, these law bikers, they came from all over the place as I understand it.
And how do they get involved? How did they find out what's going on?
Jannell Dunnington with the Sheriff's department, you know, I thought that she was on our committee and she is a member of the Blue Knights and while we were brainstorming, she said to generate money for the walk one day. She had talked -- told me she was going to talk to her husband about it because I believe her husband is the president of the Blue Knights chapter in our area. And she went with it, she ran with it and next thing you know they're showing up Saturday morning.
That's fantastic. And so, okay, now would be a great time to talk about how much money was... Well first off, let's do this, the money that's raised in this walk that you all put together, what will that money be used for?
That money will serve victims for victim services and it also goes towards education, so they're educating people about the dangers of drunk driving.
When we say that, I mean we all know that drunk driving is dangerous, right?
So, I mean, but what is it exactly though that you know, I mean specifically, give us some examples of how the money would be used?
Okay. The money is used to take for instance, when you're talking about a victim. These victims will get, you know, they get a postcard in the mail that says we're here if you need us, and that's great. And when that victim decided to call in, if there is any type of resources they need booklets, books. I can't tell you, you know, I received quite a lot of books for a month, and just general help in that area. And then, I know that their salaries don't go towards it. But you know, a lot to deal with the victim services because that is probably the most widely unrecognized part of them, you know they go to court with us. There are silent supporters, but the books were handed down probably when I needed them up, as what most victims because we're not taught how to grieve over something like this and so we have to learn. And then they'll go in and they put up educational materials and ways to teach not only adults but children about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Tammi let's face it, for office in Tyler that has what we would consider the East Texas region for MADD and 49 counties and I think what they told me was seven or eight paid them for it. That's spreading people pretty thin to provide services.
Very thin. Very, very thin.
In the books, the books -- you said the books were very helpful to you; it was helpful to you to learn how to grieve from this loss, from the materials that MADD provided?
Yes. Very helpful.
Oh, that's awesome.
I mean because, you know, they don't -- because we didn't come into this thinking or even realizing that we were going to get any type of assistance or any type of help. And we did, you know, I had more help than I could have ever imagined, because you know, when the family is gone, when the friends are gone, MADD is still there. There's a lot.
So, it's a journey for everyone I take it as to when they're going to become involved.
And once you read these books, were you able to share these with your other family members as well?
I've shared them not only with family members, but I've shared them with friends. I just loaned out two more or two of the __20:56__ have loaned out a lot to a woman last weekend. And she's already told me, she is getting some comfort but her, her loss is fresh and it didn't have anything, but her loss was not related to drunk driving, but still it was something that she needed. And I had it, though I could loan it to her.
The walk raised, we got a little drum roll here, (drum roll) okay, raised how much money?
More than $19,000.
Wow! God bless you. $19,000! That's awesome!
That was very overwhelming.
Yeah. Well, let me tell you. I mean, I think that speech volumes of how much people appreciate the issue. You know, I mean it's just, it's one of those things that needs to stay on the top of the radar in the discussion, and that's the reason why, you know, it's so important that you even though it's got to hurt, that you are out there, you know, pressing the flesh and telling your story.
Yeah, I still tried to do that, you know, I do the volunteer, at the Victim Impact Panel. And then I have gone to Robert E. Lee High School and spoke with about 300 students, and if somebody can learn, you know, then maybe I won't feel like his death was in vain, you know.
I kind of believe that people will learn and take a lot away from this. All right. So, Gun Barrel City puts on a Walk in a Box, you're the catalyst for putting together a committee and you helped raise over $19,000 that will be used locally in our region to help people as a result of being a victim of drunk driving. How does that make you feel?
I don't toot my own horn. It makes me feel good that I could be a part of this because this will help a lot of people. I do feel, actually I feel pretty great about being a part of it.
Yeah. You should.
I'm just glad, I found out when I did that, you know Dallas didn't share. (Laughs)
Because that was my motivation. Yeah, that was my motivation. You know, aside from the fact that I lost my son, my motivation was the fact that there are a lot of people, that who otherwise might not have been able to be helped to the standards that I would help without this money.
All right. How far into the walk did you get, before you said to yourself, "Okay, what can we do next year to make it bigger?"
It didn't take long. I think it was right about the time I looked up and saw the balloons and realized we probably needed a few more people out there.
The walk hasn't even started yet, technically.
No. And let me tell you by the time the walk was over, we were already troubleshooting what might have gone wrong versus what could we do to make better. That there was already __24:26__ than if the walk was over. (Laughs)
Yeah. When the -- now will MADD put some of the photographs up on the website?
I'm not sure. I'm sure they will, and that would be a call for Leslie. I don't know necessarily that it will go on that website or you know, I don't know that it will go on the national website but I'm sure that they could probably put a few on the Walk Like MADD website on the Gun Barrel page.
But I think you got a video. Did you see that video?
I did. Yeah, it was really touching I tell you, so when those balloons were released that was really amazing. How were you feeling at that point?
Oh, I was already crying. I was already crying.
Well, let me just say Tammi Branch, you're an amazing individual that, you know, what your family has been through, no family should go through. We're all very thankful that you share with us, so that hopefully this never has to happen to another family. God bless you and your family.
Oh, thank you. Thank you.
Okay, I'll buzz you right back.
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