Fourth of July is so fragrant. Sunblock and gas grills and white wine perfume America as we celebrate our freedom. It is also the time of year that I say prayers before bed, as it is the anniversary of Kate Flynn's passing. Katie didn't exactly pass, though. • She was taken. • On July 3, 2005, Martin Heidgen was angry with a friend and decided to drive his car after drinking at a barbecue. He was so angry, and so entitled in his drunken stupor, that he decided to drive down an off-ramp onto a New York parkway in the wrong direction. Six motorists later testified to their desperate attempts to warn, stop and report Heidgen's behavior. But it wasn't enough to end his 70 mph show of force.
Katie was in a limousine on this parkway. Her aunt had been married that afternoon and Katie served as flower girl. Katie was buckled in and attempting to sleep in the limo after the best party of her whole life. Her family surrounded her and the hired driver, Stanley Rabinowitz, was at the helm.
Rabinowitz was killed instantly when Heidgen turned his car directly into Katie's limousine. After the "jaws of life" pried Katie's grandma, grandpa, father and sister from the wreckage, the amount of machinery needed to keep them alive was so epic they were all taken to separate hospitals.
Katie's mom somehow only broke part of her foot. I imagine that she was spared physical pain because she was tasked to pick up her perfect, beautiful, first-born daughter and carry her out of the limousine. But only part of her— because when Heigden drove his car into this family's limousine, he decapitated 7-year-old Kate Flynn.
I met Katie shortly after she was born. Her mother, Jenna, is my oldest friend. We spent our childhoods together in ugly school uniforms, hearing about the goodness of God. I abandoned this God a long time ago, as the fear that came with his good word outweighed the good for me. My friend Jenna still reveres him, though, and survives, almost entirely, on her faith that he is taking good care of Katie.
For this reason, I often catch myself praying to Jenna's God as June comes to a close each year. I also pray to any other god I can think of who might help her. I wonder what beautiful bartering chip that I, a mere mortal, might offer these benevolent beings to entice them to stop the unending pain that haunts my friend and her family.
But the gods bring me no solace. I'm more disappointed in them than ever. Except for Dionysus. Dionysus I just pity. I imagine that he lies in shame all day on Mount Olympus as he watches what we have done with his beautiful gift. We take wine that he meant for merriment and laughter and lovemaking and use it instead to destroy.
I watched Oprah when she introduced my friend Jenna on her show a few years after the crash by asking how many people in the studio audience had ever driven drunk. Everyone sheepishly raising their hands seemed like an act of contrition until I heard Jenna utter, "If you now ask how many people pick their nose, everyone will find it much more uncomfortable to raise their hands." Which perfectly illuminated where the problem actually exists with drunken driving.
So now I am turning to man, and our laws and our freedoms that Fourth of July celebrates. Elected officials can change law, but we all make the social judgments. And this is where we need to begin to turn the tide on driving drunk — in one backyard at a time. We must prevent, dare I even say shame, any friend or acquaintance this Fourth of July who attempts to operate a 3,000-pound piece of machinery after partying.
In so doing, I pray that Jenna and her family can begin to repair themselves, five years after Katie's passing, that Dionysus and his gift might be revered once again, and that stories about beheadings at the hand of drunks will be reserved solely for period dramas on television.
And perhaps no other flower girls will be murdered when a drunk is allowed, by a backyard full of witnesses, to use a car like a weapon against families on a wedding day.
Diane Farr is known for her roles in "Californication," "Numb3rs" and "Rescue Me," and as the author of "The Girl Code."
© 2010 Diane Farr. Distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.