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On the Radio with MADD's Victims Assistants

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Join Jeff Weinstein, drunk driving accident attorney, as he interviews Alexia Hunter, MADD's manager of victim services, and Melissa Granberry, a victim services specialist with MADD. Ms. Hunter has an extensive background with both the civil and criminal components of the judicial system. She is the current Manager of Victim Services for MADD East Texas. Ms. Granberry has been a member of the East Texas Victim Services team since 2004. She currently covers 13 counties of the 49 county East Texas service area. In April 2010, Ms. Granberry and her young daughter were involved in a drunk driving crash that propelled her from being an advocate into being a victim of this epidemic.

Transcript

0:00 Introduction

Blog Talk Radio

0:01 Jeff Weinstein

I am Jeff Weinstein of Weinstein Law. If you believe what I described call me right now. Right at this minute. Yes, I know what time it is. Call me. I am not going to charge you a penny. I just want to make sure that the insurance company treats you right. You have to see your doctor, your car is messed up, your life was disrupted and the insurance company is the whole fleet of lawyers and staff and they are going to try to cheat you but don't worry about it, you got me Jeff Weinstein.

0:30 Jeff Weinstein

Alright. Sorry ladies. Let's start over because I will tell you, I have a fear that none of it was taped before but we are live now so all good. Jeff Weinstein. I am fortunate to be here with Ms Hunter and Ms Granberry for MADD. Why don't you ladies introduce yourselves because you know, you can do a better job of that than I can. And we will kind a start over from what we had a few minutes ago if you don't mind.

0:56 Alexia Hunter

No problem. My name is Alexia Hunter and I am the Manager of Victim Services here at MADD East Texas. I also worked to be an advocate here in several of the counties and nine of the counties have been serviced as our 49 county at area that we provide services to and I think Victim Services is MADD's first step secret if you will, we are with out about therefore our community in a time when they are -- there are several things went on in people's lives and they have been struck with tragedies often in their lives and we are here to make sure that they have the support that they need and I will let Melissa explain some of what she does.

1:43 Melissa Granberry

Yes Alexia you're right. We are not here to be the voice for those who no longer have a voice due to someone's decision to get in the vehicle and operate a motor vehicle under -- whether that is alcohol, whether that's prescription drugs, whether that's street drugs. We do provide assistance to the criminal deficit and then we call it a judicial system because there is truly for someone who has lost a loved one, there is nothing that can bring them back. There is no justice for that so that would be judicial system and we are there to explain every step of the way, what's going on in layman's term because the court system is a whole different world and it is something that most of the families that we worked with are not accepting to being involved in and really don't know how the process works and so we are there to kind of break it down and explain what emotions or what the hearings are about, they reset "how often they get reset you know, what to expect. Basically, because the criminal has all the right here and the victim has very, very few rights and we are here to be that voice to explain what their rights are all the way through adjudication whether the offender receives probation or the drunk driver will be prison time, so we are here to work on both epics. As long as the family needs it.

3:03 Jeff Weinstein

Ms. Granberry, how does someone finds out about MADD?

3:05 Melissa Granberry

That's a great question, thank you for asking that. We do have a website; that's www.madd.org, that's a national website, or you can visit us for East Texas at www.madd.org/east. And also we have a toll-free helpline for victims no matter what time of day and night it is, 24 hours a day, there's someone there at the staff that help them through the deepest, darkened hours at 2:00 in the morning, and that is 877-madd-help, 877-623-3435, that translates over into numbers.

3:51 Jeff Weinstein

We'll make sure everybody knows MADD as M-A-D-D.

3:54 Melissa Granberry

Correct. Mother Against Drunk Driving, and you know, years and years ago, we used to be Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and we decided to change that because we're not against the person, we're not against the person who made that choice to drink and drive, we're against the action and that's why our name is now Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

4:15 Jeff Weinstein

Yeah. Thanks for clearing that up, you know, I'm just old school so I still think of it. And, you know, I guess having that been involved with cases that involved drunk driving, drunk drivers for 25-ish years now, I don't find it any less offensive, do you guys, I mean, day in and day out, I still ask myself why. And I would imagine the victims are searching for a lie as well, aren't they?

4:46 Melissa Granberry

All the time, all the time. And actually advocates as well. It is a daily emotional struggle, not only for the victims but for ourselves as advocates as well because of the tragedy that we see day in and day out from poor choices and how so many lives are affected, whether it's an injury, or death, I mean, even in injury cases, the families goes to through the grief process because they're grieving the lives that they had before the crash, and those are things that we help to walk them through, and a lot of times they don't realize that those are the emotions that they are experiencing.

5:24 Jeff Weinstein

So, you know, someone made here the show and themselves be a victim, or a family, or a friend, a member is a victim. And maybe they feel a little uncomfortable calling a stranger. I mean, I'm sure that comes up, how do you all deal with, hey, you know, just make that first call and find out if we're the right support group for you.

5:48 Melissa Granberry

Well, the most important thing to us is helping them to understand that they are not alone. That we are here to support them whenever they need us and whatever they need us for. We meet them where they are, and a lot of times when a crash has happened to a family, you know, everyone's living their lives and there are many things going on in our lives, some of us maybe in happy thoughts, some of us may not be in a happy thought, you know, when the crash occurs, and so we're there to help with all aspects of what the family is going through. Not just the drunk driving issues, because we're here to support and encourage them and bring them from the state of victim to a survivor, because that is our goal, we want to see everyone transform to a survivor, being able to overcome a lot the fears and the anxieties, and the emotions that can be so crippling in such a tragedy like this.

6:41 Jeff Weinstein

So, you know, something has happened to me, I make the phone call, you know, how does that work? I mean, do I get in touch with the counselor? Does someone get back with me? Is every situation unique, you know, how does it work?

6:58 Melissa Granberry

Of course every situation is unique, Alexia do you want to explain?

7:02 Alexia Hunter

Well, I just basically wanted to explain that when you call our East Texas office, someone will take an intake form in, and ask the background of the crash and what's happened, and what's occurred, and each victim advocate here is designated to a service portion of East Texas, and so the case will then be given to the advocates that's in your county, that services your county, that advocate has build relationships with victims, assistants, coordinators, with district attorneys, and other attorneys, as well as law enforcement in those counties to be able to better serve you. There are times -- at that time, of course, a victim is definitely not thinking of, "Oh, I need to call the D.A," or, "I need to check and see where this paperwork give." And so we try to alleviate some of that responsibility and take that on, on ourselves to make this system and whole process much easier, as easy as it can be rather, for the victim.

8:07 Jeff Weinstein

Now, let's say that I'm someone that really doesn't want to be in the limelight right now, you know, I haven't reached that stage in my recovery where I really want to be public about all of this. Are my discussions with MADD and the victim services coordinators confidential?

8:26 Melissa Granberry

Yes, they are. We speak with the victims and get their input and get their -- what they like to see happen with the case and then we go forward and speak with the victim assistants coordinators and the staff with the county to try to make some sort of resolution to happen, but in no way do we put any kind of emphasis on what's been shared with us from the victims to those district attorneys, or to the attorneys they will speak with, but we want to make sure that we're servicing them to the best that we're able to do without putting them in any kind of situation where they still like -- their confidentiality has been breached.

9:12 Jeff Weinstein

And I would imagine that, you know, victims are really all over the map, of the types of services they need, I take it that you all really have to come up with -- if someone, you know, desires your services, you really have to come up with a very unique plan for each different person, is that right?

9:33 Melissa Granberry

That is correct. Because there are individual cases where that some driver were still in the crash, but maybe someone else was killed, and/or someone else was injured, and in that case, there's not going to be a judicial process because the person committing the offense of course has been killed, but that does not change the experiences that family goes through and the need for support and encouragement during the grief process that they're working through. And so, we still assist in those areas of being that shoulder to lean on and being that ear just when they need someone to talk to, whether they need to scream and constant somebody, we're here to listen at that, or whether they need someone to comfort them.

10:22 Jeff Weinstein

You know, it's an interesting organization from the standpoint of, you know, every time I ask myself why, I never get a good answer, you know what I mean? When I'm talking to myself in the mirror, why this has happened, and I just imagined the victims must feel as though they've been completely robbed, exposed, and hurt, and you know, you are doing an amazing job of helping with the healing. Congratulations.

10:53 Melissa Granberry

Well, thank you.

10:54 Alexia Hunter

Thank you very much.

10:55 Jeff Weinstein

And it's obviously got to be very rewarding, I would imagine what you do. What do you find individually the most rewarding aspect of your service to the community as I don't want to call it a job, because I don't think that you guys probably look at your work as jobs.

11:13 Alexia Hunter

No. No. For me it's a calling; I'm here because I know I'm supposed to be here until they manage themselves and they move on.

11:21 Jeff Weinstein

Yeah.

11:22 Alexia Hunter

And some of the things that are most rewarding, it's like Melissa said, when you see someone go from a victim mode to a survivor mode, it's great to see when our victims have reached a point in their lives where they're ready to, perhaps, volunteer for the organization, or we've had -- recently, where we've had a recent victim decided that she wanted to put on a walk for it. So things like that that make you realize that you can help someone go from a tragic moment in their lives to something that's healing for them to be able to go on and to do things, and be supportive in ways that maybe they didn't see when the accident or a crash first happened.

12:12 Melissa Granberry

I've been there a lot because families tell us a lot that they had no idea, you know, a year ago that they would be in this place and be able to have the strength, that they have to breathe in and out, and get out of bed everyday. And if that something like this had happened.

12:30 Jeff Weinstein

You know, that's must be very powerful, to take someone from a place where they don't think that they'll take another breath, I don't want to, no desire, and literally become a --if they choose to -- you guys have got a great story there in the office. You know, someone that literally can change the way other people might think, you know, about this problem, this epidemic, this disease that we have.

12:56 Alexia Hunter

Exactly. Yes. I'm feeling, asking earlier why, the good question of why, because we have this every single day. And, you know, people drive drunk because they can, because there is nothing there to stop them except they're own conscience. And something that matters, working towards with our campaign to eliminate drunk driving is to separate the car from the driver, to make the car secure. And there is advanced technology now that we are working on with the auto industry where there would be sensors in the vehicle to determine the breath alcohol concentration, and where it's coming from in the vehicle, whether it's the driver, the passenger, and those kinds of things. And of course, there's all sorts of circumvention issues, in a way that can be big, you know, where we have the admission interlog issues that we have nowadays, and so they're taking that and working with the issues that we know of to where by the time, in the next five to ten years, where this will be a standard equipment on the vehicle and not cost more than an airbag would.

13:59 Jeff Weinstein

You all have a function coming up, I don't know it's not open to the public, it's by invitation only, called the Candlelight Vigil, can you tell us a little bit about that?

14:10 Melissa Granberry

Actually, it's a celebration of life, remembrance and hope, because we don't light any candles at the event. This is an opportunity for us, from MADD East Texas, to honor and to remember those who have been injured or those who has been killed taking from us in a drunk driving crash. And we do call it crash because it's not an accident, and it's a choice that someone made specifically in the admission to drive that vehicle. Because accidents are, you know, not preventable but this type tragedy is a 100% preventable. And so, the celebration of life, remembrance, and hope, we also call it the Distance Tribute, is a chance for the families that we have worked with, or anyone who has been affected by drunk driving to come, and to remember, and to honor their loved one. We have slideshow of photos that are submitted to us by the families, we do a reading of the names, all of the names that we are aware of, has been injured or killed at the hands of a drunk driver, and this year we have something new that we're adding is the Tree of Angels where we will have little heart-shaped ornaments with the individual photo and the family will just hang that on the tree. And the event is at the Rose Garden here at East Texas, from 11:30 to 1:00, tomorrow, which is Saturday, December the 4th, and Rose Garden has graciously agreed to allow us to leave our Tree of Angels at the Rose Garden through the Christmas holiday. So anyone who'd come through the facility will be able to see, you know, the names and the faces, and put a name on the face with such tragedy. And we have had some great feedbacks from the families who have attended over the years passed and what a great healing experience it is for them because a lot of times when something like this happen, all they want to do is hear the name of their loved one and talk about some of the most favorite things of their loved one. And a lot of times people don't know what to say, or what to do when something like this happens, should I talk about them? Should I say their name? You know, would it upset them?

16:10 Melissa Granberry

I can tell you, "Yes, talk about them, say their name," and that's one of things that we're here to do with this event.

16:17 Jeff Weinstein

Well, there must be a wonderful feeling of ,"I'm not alone," like, I can look around the room and I can see, unfortunately, other people are dealing with this as well, so I'm not here alone.

16:31 Melissa Granberry

That is correct. And there are families that attend that are in all different stages of the grief process, from the very raw, to very new, very fresh and real, right in your phase group, to those who are several years out to ten years out, who, you know, it's such a mix to where they're able to support and encourage each other and help them understand, "I was there and you will make it through this because you will."

16:58 Jeff Weinstein

So, a victim is out there now and they may need some medical support or some financial assistance, are you all able to help in anyway with those types of problems?

17:10 Melissa Granberry

We certainly are. We're able to work as their advocate, and we get them in touch with the medical facilities, or with Medicaid or Medicare, or whatever it may be, to get them medical transportation, certain things that we are able to get in contact with organizations with -- that maybe they don't know about but we may have that extra resource there that they're not aware of. And so I would, you know, just send that plea out to anyone who have been involved in a crash to give us a call if you are in need of medical support, if you are in need of financial support. We are able to get them in contact with the crime victims compensation in Austin. There are things that people, when you are in this situation, you just don't know what to do, and sending that plea out to people to give us a call if you're in this situation, you do not have to go with this alone, we are here, we're trying to do this, let us help you through the most difficult part of your life.

18:21 Jeff Weinstein

Now Ms. Granberry, you actually have your own story here, you're a victim yourself.

18:27 Melissa Granberry

Actually I have and I've been battling with even whether my victimization -- I'm going to get into tears right now.

18:34 Jeff Weinstein

I'm sorry.

18:35 Melissa Granberry

It's hard if you have actually putting in the fight too because I was not injured in a way that a lot of the families that we work with, or you know, I haven't had the devastating loss, or a death of a loved one, but my daughter who is 12 and myself this past Easter weekend. We're coming home from a concert, a mommy and daughter experience that every now and then tried to enjoy together and we we're stopping at a stop sign and we were rear-ended by a 19-year-old drunk driver. And at the time, I didn't realize, you know, he's been drinking, someone had just hit us and drove away, just fled the scene like it happens in a lot of the cases that we work with, they realize they've done something wrong, and they just get away, and try to, you know, make it all go away, but I chased him down and -- I started that point with, "My dog just died," hit my car, and you know, he needs to be accountable for that, and when we finally caught up with him, it was apparent when we were out in the vehicle speaking with each other, and he has been drinking, and it was not his first offense, he had just got his license from being suspended from a previous crash where he had sent individuals to the hospital, and the kid is only 19.

19:55 Jeff Weinstein

Wow. Well, I can figure it's an interesting point that you raise and, by the way, thank you for sharing your personal experience. Everybody that I have met, that has been involved in something like this, always wants to either minimize or take some blame, and we're interesting people as a society, you're so sweet to say, you know, and basically want to minimize this because mine is not as tragic as someone else. But the truth of the matter is, yours is because emotionally, and that was -- my next question for you all is the emotional support. Emotionally, it's just as draining on you, I take it, as you know, anyone else that comes in and speaks services. I mean, obviously, you know, thank God you all were not injured, but emotionally, tell me how that's different from someone that has had a victim, a member of their family that's either harmed or killed. I mean, and the emotional spark is still there, right?

20:55 Melissa Granberry

It is. It is. That's such a lovely question, Jeff, because this is not just a job for us. This is something that is a mission that we have to make sure that everyone is cared for. And it does take an emotional torment because we take it personally, because these are people's lives we're talking about that had been changed forever. And it does, it affects the way we see the world.

21:23 Jeff Weinstein

Well, emotionally, someone that calls in, are you all able to help them with grief counseling, etc. I mean, you know, to really be able to feel back the layers of the hurt and find out, you know, what it takes to rebuild?

21:40 Melissa Granberry

Well we're not counselors ourselves although we're trying with some advocates, we do a lot of emotional support, we have a support in several different areas that we have for the families that we work with, but we are trying to see that at times of someone who may need professional assistance at those times we were connecting with individuals that they need and still continue our emotional support in conjunction with a therapy that may need to be sought, and I can tell you something, anybody that feels like they're going crazy because of what happened to them, I can assure you , you are not losing your mind, you're not going crazy, it's a normal reaction to such an abnormal event in your life and we're just here to make the most out of it but we can because there is no sense to it.

22:31 Jeff Weinstein

So, there is however MADD manager victim services Tyler, Ms. Granberry, victim services specialist with MADD over in the East Texas region. Believe it or not, as a promise, the time goes by very quickly. There is no way we could have ever spoken about all the different areas of services you guys provide, can I ask a favor?

22:54 Melissa Granberry

Yes.

22:55 Jeff Weinstein

Can I call you guys again?

22:57 Melissa Granberry

Yeah. Of course. Please.

22:59 Jeff Weinstein

Would you guys be on the show again because let's face it, the great work that you do, and the, you know, the things that MADD does behind the scenes for people that no one ever knows about is such a tremendous benefit to the victims that I just like for you guys to have an opportunity to blow your horn as many times as you can.

23:18 Melissa Granberry

Well, we thank you for the support that you have given in our organization and especially in our victim services team, not only through your radio services financial support, but we also want to make that plea to the community that we cannot continue to be here as an organization locally and physically without the financial support of the community.

23:40 Jeff Weinstein

That's right. And it's a trade off for me, do you realize? I'm going ahead and make my confession. As much as I would like to volunteer time you know, the trade off for me is, you know, provide assistance so that you guys can actually go and do all the great work.

23:56 Melissa Granberry

And we thank you.

23:57 Jeff Weinstein

Well, you're kind to say that. It's nothing compared to what you do I assure you. If somebody did want to volunteer, are you guys taking volunteers? Do you need help?

24:06 Melissa Granberry

Always. Always.

24:09 Jeff Weinstein

Who do they call and what number they'll call?

24:11 Melissa Granberry

They would call Tammi Branch at 903-534-6000, the toll-free number is 888-665-6233, or they can email Tammi at tammi.branch@madd.org.

24:29 Jeff Weinstein

Ladies, I can't...

24:31 Melissa Granberry

But if you just want to research the internet for information that we need, or you want to do some hands-on physical stuff, we can take it off.

24:39 Jeff Weinstein

Ladies, I can't tell you how much I appreciate your taking time of this, very busy schedules on a Friday before the weekend when I know you've got a lot going on to allow us the opportunity to get your message out and I just got to tell you, everyday I'm thankful that you guys exist, and if there is anything that you need let us know.

24:57 Melissa Granberry

Thank you so much.

24:58 Alexia Hunter

Thank you very much.

24:59 Jeff Weinstein

You guys have a great weekend, I hope you don't get any calls over the weekend, that would be fabulous. And I know...

25:05 Alexia Hunter

If I go out at Sunday, that means our services are not needed.

25:09 Jeff Weinstein

Absolutely. Wouldn't that be the best that you never got another phone call, that would be fantastic. So, I look forward to seeing you guys tomorrow. Have a great day.

25:18 Alexia Hunter

Thank you.

25:19 Melissa Granberry

Thank you.

25:20 Jeff Weinstein

Thanks again. Bye-bye.

25:21 Alexia Hunter

Buh-bye.

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