TEMPLE TERRACE — Antonio Balbarin and his wife Tanya Enriquez are relative newcomers to Tampa.
In early January, they moved from their longtime home in New Jersey to be closer to their 31-year-old daughter, Cecille Enriquez-Balbarin.
The city’s annual Gasparilla Pirate Fest was held soon after their arrival, but Cecille didn’t want to attend the festivities that day. Instead, she chose to be in the company of her parents and a female companion who joined them. They shared lots of laughs and cheer that day.
But the parents’ joy at being close to Cecille turned to heartbreak in the early hours of the next morning, when they received word their daughter had been gravely injured by a drunk driver. The driver collided with Enriquez-Balbarin after she dropped off her friend on Jan. 28. She died the next day.
For her parents, Cecille’s ever-present smile and her laughter will be forever etched in their minds. Barbarin described his daughter as a kind and selfless person who touched many lives.
“Nevertheless, we cannot accept that this is the end of her story,” Barbarin said. “Something good must come out of it.”
With that, the couple lighted a candle of hope for all other victims of drunk driver crashes during the Mothers Against Drunk Driving of West Central Florida’s 34th annual Candlelight Vigil of Hope & Remembrance last week.
Barbarin and Enriquez joined other families who’ve lost loved ones due to impaired drivers on Dec. 6 at Mission Hill Church in Temple Terrace. For some, it was their first time attending the observance. Others, living with the memory of drunk driving tragedies, return for the vigil year after year.
The families gathered to be honored by local law enforcement agencies, to tell their stories and to mourn.
Officers stood at attention, illuminated by the flashing lights of their vehicles during the outdoor segment of the event, which included a somber, silent procession on the church grounds.
Despite public service announcements and alternative means of transportation to thwart it, drunk driving remains the leading cause of roadway deaths, according to MADD.
Nationally, on average, 30 alcohol-related driving deaths occur each day, or about one every 50 minutes. Every two minutes, someone is injured in a drunk driving crash.
In Florida, Hillsborough County leads the state in driver-impaired fatalities, according to statistics compiled by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. In 2016, of 546 crashes involving impaired drivers, 271 victims were injured and 42 people died.
In Pinellas County, impaired drivers were involved in 344 crashes, with 189 injuries and 21 deaths.
Wrong-way drivers in Hillsborough and Pinellas accounted for 119 of those collisions.
“Although Hillsborough County remains the deadliest in the state, the numbers are actually on the decline, because law enforcement officials are trying hard to prevent them from happening,” said LaChan Knowles, a MADD of West Central Florida victim services specialist.
“You need to call 911 right away if you see someone driving the wrong way or driving erratically,” she added.
Contact Joyce McKenzie at [email protected]