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In an instant, a family is hurt for a lifetime

University of Tampa graduate Doug Kozar, shown with brother Matt, right, and parents, was killed in an alcohol-related crash.

Courtesy of Matt Kozar

University of Tampa graduate Doug Kozar, shown with brother Matt, right, and parents, was killed in an alcohol-related crash.

This Halloween will mark another holiday without my brother. My family of four — now a family of three — has had an empty chair at the dinner table for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. The most painful was celebrating what would have been Doug's 24th birthday. We lit candles on an ice cream cake, but my brother wasn't around to blow them out. So we did and pretended for just a second that he was still there.

One year ago — Oct. 30, 2010 — my Doug and his 24-year-old co-worker, Katie Kohlier, were killed on the Harbour Island Bridge by a drunken driver. They had finished their shifts at the Tampa Marriott and were walking to their cars.

According to documents released by the state attorney's office, 35-year-old Matthew Moye, a local dentist in the Tampa area, was driving his 2011 Cadillac CTS at a top speed of 89 mph when he hit Doug and Kate. The posted speed limit was 30 mph.

Moye refused a breathalyzer at the scene, but a blood sample taken later showed he had a blood alcohol content of 0.13. Police say they smelled alcohol and noticed his bloodshot eyes.

Moye was charged with two counts of DUI manslaughter, two counts of vehicular homicide, two counts of DUI property damage and one count of battery on a law enforcement officer.

Pictures from the scene show a mangled, twisted Cadillac perched along a concrete barrier. Debris, rubber and metal lay strewn across the pavement.

Unfortunately, Doug and Kate are just two among thousands killed each year in drunken driving-related crashes. Mothers Against Drunk Driving reports 30 percent of all traffic fatalities in Florida involve drivers operating under the influence of alcohol. According to Florida's Department of Highway Patrol and Motor Vehicles, Hillsborough County (1,363) was behind only Broward (1,424) and Miami-Dade (1,588) counties last year in alcohol-related crashes.

Drinking and driving is like playing Russian roulette with your life, your passengers' lives, and the lives of innocent pedestrians. It's hard enough operating a vehicle with all of today's distractions — cell phones, navigation devices, and highly technical radio systems — but driving drunk is a recipe for disaster. A report to Congress this year cited one study that found adult drivers with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 — the threshold at which Florida law presumes that someone is unable to safely drive a motor vehicle — are 11 times more likely to die in a car crash than sober drivers.

I'll never forget the voice message I received from my father a few hours after my brother's death: "Matt, something terrible has happened. Please call us." My heart sank.

I'll never forget turning the corner at the funeral home to see my brother's body resting in a wooden casket — a lifeless shell of his former self dressed in a fancy suit my parents bought him. My legs weakened and nearly gave out.

I'll never forget the cemetery where rain poured on mourners huddled beneath black umbrellas. I watched my grandparents from across the grave. They had purchased the plot and gravestone years ago for themselves, likely thinking they'd never have to bury their grandson in that spot. We all placed a rose on his casket before it was lowered into the earth. At that moment, I remember thinking I wish I told him I loved him more often.

This Halloween, the bars will be packed with people celebrating in costume; liquor and beer will be flowing. But if you plan on drinking with friends for the festivities, don't drive home. Make sure you have a designated driver or call a livery service. A cab may seem like a costly alternative, but I can promise it's nothing compared to what it will cost if you crash your car or hit and kill someone.

Think of the curse my family must endure for the rest of our lives — an empty chair at the dinner table.

Matt Kozar, 27, was Doug Kozar's older brother.

In an instant, a family is hurt for a lifetime 10/20/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 20, 2011 6:26pm]
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