Honoring teen taken too soon, Independence family dedicated to drunk driving prevention

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- It was a night described as absolute horror – Halloween seven years ago when a drunk driver slammed into another car and killed an innocent 16-year-old girl.

Now Laura Reynolds’ family is sharing their story in hopes of preventing similar tragedies as we approach this Halloween weekend, a time when statistics show drunk-driving related crashes are expected to spike.

“I just feel if we ignore it, it’s just going to keep getting worse,” said Laura’s older sister, Jessica Reynolds. “By talking about it, by cultivating prevention and awareness, it keeps things on the forefront of our minds.”

lr1Laura, 16, was killed on Halloween night in 2009 while riding in a car with friends along Blue Mills Road and 24 Highway in Independence.

“She was remarkable,” said Jessica. “She was brilliant, sweet, kind, all the good stuff. She had it all and she was beautiful. My favorite person on the planet. No one will ever make me laugh like she could.”

Laura’s young life was tragically cut short when a 19-year-old drunk driver left a Halloween party back in 2009, drove the wrong way and slammed into Laura’s car head-on.

“It was horrendous,” Jessica said, “and the court hearings to follow were horrendous. And the judicial and the process, it`s really hard.”

The drunk driver, Kenneth Blake, pleaded guilty to the crime but got a suspended sentence for killing Laura.

He only had to serve time for injuring two other girls who were also riding in the car with her and he’s already out of prison.

“She wasn`t supposed to die, she was 16,” Jessica said. “She had a future, she had a lot ahead and her life was just ended.”

“This is just such a senseless, preventable death. All of them are, anything related to impaired driving is all preventable.”

Now dedicated to spreading awareness, Laura's family helps with DUI checkpoints and works alongside organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) to help fight the epidemic. On October 21, a checkpoint was dedicated to Laura's memory, and seven suspected drunk drivers were arresteed.

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“Statistics do show that Halloween does have high fatality rate with crashes,” said Alicia Thompson with MADD. “It`s okay to celebrate and it`s okay to have a good time, but to encourage everyone to be responsible and have a plan ahead of time.”

Thompson said it's as simple as designating a driver, catching a ride or calling a cab – anything to prevent the pain Laura’s family is still feeling after all these years.

“It’s a split second decision that someone will make, whether or not to get in the car and get behind the wheel and drive after they’ve been drinking,” Jessica said. “And that split second decision could change their life and everyone else’s lives like it did ours.”lr2

Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show between 2011 and 2015, 45 percent of all traffic deaths on Halloween were caused by a drunk driver.

For more tips on how to stay safe, click here.