DRUNKEN DRIVING Mother shares pain to warn teens of danger
A local mother says she may never be happy again because of the death of her daughter.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
DAMASCUS -- Eighteen-year-old Robyn Johnson promised her mother she wouldn't drink and drive. But on Sept. 30, 1999, she broke that promise.
It was the last day her mother saw Robyn alive.
Robyn was killed that night when the car she was driving went over the centerline of Lisbon-Canfield Road and struck another car head-on. Police determined Johnson was drunk, and broken glass from a liquor bottle was found between her legs.
"Part of you dies when your child dies," said Robyn's mother, Sally Brunner of Damascus. "Every day there's a little bit of something missing."
Brunner recently spoke at West Branch High School about drinking and driving and the death of her daughter. It was her first public speech since the accident.
Robyn was a West Branch graduate.
"If it saved one kid from dying, one parent from having to go through it, it would be worth it," Brunner said of her speech.
Other crusaders: Brunner isn't the only local mother revisiting painful memories in an effort to discourage teens from drinking and driving.
Mary Leo Feo, a Youngstown resident whose son was killed by a drunken driver in 1982, also discusses her experiences with local students.
As vice president of the Mahoning County Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Feo gives several presentations a year at local schools and clubs. She said she believes education is the key to stopping teens from drinking and driving.
During her presentations, Feo shows students a poster that includes the names and pictures of local victims of accidents caused by drunken drivers. She also talks with the students about the penalties associated with driving drunk.
"If you're 18 years old, you're going to prison if you kill someone," Feo said.
Her son was 19 years old when the car he was driving was struck three times by a vehicle driven by a drunken driver. Feo said she hasn't forgiven the driver for killing her son.
"I'm still very mad, and I still have a lot of hate for the person," she said.
Brunner, meanwhile, said she feels she will never fully recover from her daughter's death.
"I don't think you're ever really, truly happy again," she said. "Part of you is gone."
Brunner said she and her daughter were good friends who could "talk about anything." Robyn wanted to work as a model and have a family, Brunner said.
"Robyn lit up a room," she said. "Everyone said they never remembered Robyn not smiling."
Warnings: Brunner said she repeatedly reminded her daughter of the dangers of drinking and driving. Robyn told her mother she would stay at a friend's house and not drive if she had been drinking alcohol.
The last conversation Brunner had with her daughter was about the laundry. Robyn was leaving for work on the night of the accident, and she asked her mother to put her clothes in the dryer.
Brunner said she never told her daughter she loved her as she left for work, and she now regrets it.
Around midnight, while she was working at a nursing home, Brunner received a call from her husband. He said Robyn had been in a serious accident and Brunner needed to come home.
When Brunner arrived home, her husband told her that Robyn had died.
"I could not understand. She was supposed to be at work," Brunner said. Robyn had left work on her lunch break to go drinking with some friends.
Brunner said she wishes Robyn would have called her for a ride instead of trying to drive while drunk. She said she believes parents should tell their children to call for a ride if they've been drinking.
"I'd rather she'd have called me that night ... than to have to go to the morgue to look at her," Brunner said.
Brunner said she's learned to value each day as a result of her daughter's death, and she always tells her other children she loves them before they leave the house.
"I learned that you have to treasure the moments you have and make the most of what you have each day," Brunner said. "Tomorrow you might not have it."