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Tragedy moved mom to start first Pinellas chapter of MADD

“If I save one person from the pain and suffering that I endure every day, then it’s worth it,” Fradin said in 1985.

JIM DAMASKE | Times (1996)

“If I save one person from the pain and suffering that I endure every day, then it’s worth it,” Fradin said in 1985.

Jan. 8, 1983. A mother says goodbye to her daughter.

Laurie Ferguson, a pretty brunet pet lover, is en route to a movie with Jeffrey Richards, a musician who has given her a promise ring.

Before they leave her mother's house, Diane Fradin stops her daughter — Laurie's little Karmann Ghia makes her nervous.

"Be careful driving," she says.

Across town, William Everett Nelson has spent 10 hours drinking at two bars. He has downed 30 drinks — beer and White Russians in a 12-ounce mug. His blood streams with two times what's legal.

He gets in his car.

Around midnight, Laurie, 25, and Jeffrey, 30, drive home. Nelson speeds through a red light at a St. Petersburg intersection. He broadsides the Karmann Ghia.

Laurie and Jeff are killed.

The mother's phone rings in the middle of the night.

She is changed forever.

• • •

Diane Fradin, who founded Pinellas County's first chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving 25 years ago, died Sept. 4 after a battle with cancer. She was 75.

Mrs. Fradin had two children whom she loved dearly. Her daughter, Laurie, was a Seminole High grad who worked as a bartender at Steak and Ale. They were very close.

Mrs. Fradin had a real estate license. She was an expert bridge player and a type-A, organized personality. She was always involved in community affairs.

The crash raised the stakes.

"She became energized by the tragedy to the point where legislators and people in power became afraid of her," said Tom Carey, a lawyer and former state chairman of MADD. "She wouldn't take no for an answer. She was unafraid."

Back then, MADD was a grass roots organization with members sitting around card tables in churches and malls. They shared stories of sorrow and devised plans for action.

After the crash, Mrs. Fradin sued a bar where Nelson had been drinking. She spent much of her free time sitting in on drunken driving trials wearing the MADD logo, pressuring judges for strict sentences.

The group visited Tallahassee during legislative sessions to lobby for laws. Locally, MADD helped lead to the formation of a 10-member driving-under-the-influence squad at the St. Petersburg Police Department. In its first year, the squad arrested 1,377 drunken drivers.

"If I save one person from the pain and suffering that I endure every day, then it's worth it," Mrs. Fradin told the St. Petersburg Times in 1985. "That is all I have left."

• • •

In 1986, Mrs. Fradin left Seminole for California, where her son, Scott Ferguson, lived.

Three years of crusading left her burned out. Plus, Nelson was up for parole. The thought of seeing her daughter's killer on the street was too much to bear.

She worked as a bookkeeper for her son's floor-covering company and developed an interest in tennis. She eventually became disillusioned by what she viewed as MADD's increasing emphasis on politics and money. She thought the group was losing focus.

But she always spoke out.

In 1987, Nelson was released from prison. Three weeks later he was arrested again for drunken driving. Mrs. Fradin flew from California to attend his hearing.

Again, she sat in a courtroom. She pushed for a tough sentence. He got 11 years.

"My mom did not have an easy life. It was always one hurdle after another," said Scott Ferguson, 53. "I know she accomplished her mission."

• • •

April 17, 1983. It's four months since Laurie died.

Tom Carey's wife, Joni, is killed by a drunken driver. He's devastated, lost, emotionally shocked.

He sees a clipping in the newspaper for a MADD meeting. He carries it for six months.

Finally, he stops at a Lutheran Church in Clearwater and takes a seat in the back. He listens to the woman at the front, a clear, determined speaker who lost her daughter in a crash.

"It was electrifying," he said.

For the first time, he felt hope.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

>>Biography

Diane Fradin

Born: March 4, 1933.

Died: Sept. 4, 2008.

Survivors: son, Scott Ferguson; sister, Jean Scarr; brother, Robert Lowry; predeceased by daughter, Laurie Ferguson; husbands, Robert Ferguson and Hyman Fradin.

Tragedy moved mom to start first Pinellas chapter of MADD 09/11/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 18, 2008 9:07pm]
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