Editor’s note: Drunk driving was not taken seriously until after my daughter, Cari was killed in 1980 when I started MADD. People find it hard to believe that judges were consistently lenient and society was more concerned about the driver then the victims and survivors. But it was true. . . .
Yvonne Ruff, a We Save Lives’ 3D Lifesaver came across this letter written by her brother, Carl, to the judge who sentenced her parent’s killer after they were killed by a repeat offender drunk driver, on November 22, 1979. She and her brother were both passengers in the car when the crime occurred.
In an excerpt from the Kansas City Star Dec. 8, 2002, we learn of the horrific crash that killed her parents.
“Then 15 years old, she had been asleep in the backseat of her family's car, headed to Illinois for Thanksgiving and a family wedding. Her 18-year-old brother, Carl, was awake, sitting behind his mother.
He saw the car in front of theirs swerve out of the way, he later told his sister. He saw a car coming at them with its lights turned off, driving the wrong way on the freeway. In the brief lag between his parents' life and death, he was close enough to see Holder's eyes.
Their Blue Springs parents - Janice Johnston, 38, and Roy Johnston, 42 - died at the scene, outside St. Louis. Ruff and her brother survived.”
The driver, Kenneth Holder was sentenced to only 52 weekends in the county jail. Yvonne and her brother Carl, who survived the crash were sent to live with relatives in different states.
Judge John W. Day,
I would like to comment on the sentencing of Kenneth E. Holder. How can the death of two people be looked upon so lightly? Mr. Holder was totally at fault in the death of both of my parents. Just, maybe if the sentencing was a little bit stiffer, things like this would not happen every day. Just because Mr. Holder was drunk, the homicides were considered accidental. Mr. Holder didn't even receive the maximum for drunk driving. How many people does a drunk person have to kill to receive the maximum sentence of one year?
I am ashamed to be any part of the United States court system if this is the kind of justice involved. Every day I read the paper and see attempted robbery suspects, receiving more of a sentence than 52 weekends, you say the sentence of weekends would allow H. to support his family. Who is supporting my family now?
Why didn't me or my sister receive a subpoena prior to the trial? Who was more involved than us? We were both severely injured in the accident and now we paying for Mr. Holder's night on the town, while he goes nearly scot free? It seems that murder is about the only thing a person can do these days without going to prison.
I just want you to know that I am very disappointed in the result of the trial. My disappointment comes not entirely from revenge, but also for the sorrow I feel for the next victims, because I know how much pain, time and paperwork it takes to start your life over. I am sure there are many other murders, rapist out there seeking out their next victim, because they know how forgiving the courts are.
I also know that this letter won't mean much to a big-time judge like yourself, but I have gotten a few things off my chest.
Carl E. Johnston
According to the Kansas City Star, the driver, “became homeless and drank himself to death, dying of liver disease in 1996.”