Last Sunday morning probably began for Mark and Amanda Roe and their two sons in much the same way that it did for other area families. The weather forecast looked great and Sunday offered a chance to go to church, run a few errands or maybe a quick drive to the park to relax before getting back to work the next day.
We’ll probably never know exactly why the family of four happened to be at the intersection of Interstate 81 and Exit 317 in Frederick County at 11a.m. that morning because they were all killed in a horrific accident. The Roe’s1994 Jeep was rear-ended by an underage drunk driver in a pickup truck.
All four members of the Stephenson, Virginia family were killed.
Mother and driver Amanda Roe was 31.
Father and passenger Mark Roe was 49.
Son and passenger Caleb Roe was 11.
Son and passenger Tyler Roe was 4.
According to Virginia State Police the family died at the scene of the accident “as a result of the fire and the impact.”
And in confirmation of an all-too-familiar urban legend regarding alcohol-related accidents, the 20-year-old drunk driver who rear-ended the family’s Jeep received non-life threatening injuries.
Let that sink in for a moment; A family leaves home on a Sunday morning never to return because they are all killed by an underage drunk driver. In fact, their car isn’t even moving when the deadly disaster occurs.
Stephenson isn’t far from Clarke County. In fact, just about any person reading this article could have been stopped at the same traffic light that morning. It’s not hard to imagine the sheer terror and helplessness that any one of us would have felt had we glanced in our rearview mirror and saw that the vehicle behind us wasn’t going to stop.
And the sobering truth is that it really could have been any one of us.
The Clarke County community offers its deepest condolences to the Roe family’s next of kin and we share the loss with the Frederick County community. But in addition to our sorrow we also feel other emotions; outrage and anger.
Many of us here in Clarke County are outraged that yet again an underage drunk driver has caused such unthinkable pain and suffering through such selfish and stupid behavior.
Sure, we all “get” the fact that we can’t stop underage drinking. We all “get” the fact that alcohol is easy for underage people to buy. We all “get” the fact that lots of kids ignore the law.
What we don’t “get” is why four-year-old Tyler Roe won’t be starting Kindergarten this fall. What we don’t “get” is how a family of four, out together on a Sunday morning, winds up in the morgue rather than back home at the end of the day. What we don’t “get” is why underage individuals keep making the selfish decisions that keep causing these tragedies to occur.
Yet on another level our community does understand why these things continue to happen. They keep happening, in part, because vendors and adults can be caught supplying kids with alcohol and the penalties are a joke.
– Two weeks in jail after letting underage kids drink in your home?
– Being allowed to continue to sell liquor after multiple offenses for selling alcohol to kids?
– Major grocery store chains required to only pay a fine after repeated offenses for selling booze to minors?
Are you serious?!
There is no doubt that the ultimate responsibility for a drunk-driving accident rests with the person who decided to drink and then get behind the wheel of a vehicle. But let’s be honest; If our community’s concern with preventing future underage alcohol tragedies, like what happened to the Roe family on Sunday morning, is measured by the severity of the penalties meted out to the people who contributed to the crime, then we collectively share in the blame for the tragedy.
Until we begin to demand accountability from our legal system nothing is going to change. It’s really that simple.
But if you accept the “fact” that kids can’t be stopped from drinking, you don’t have to accept that there’s nothing that you can do about it. Raise your economic and political voice.
– Don’t patronize stores that are busted for underage alcohol sales and be sure to tell the store’s management why you won’t be buying there in the future.
– Drop an email to the Frederick County prosecutor’s office (GWilliam@co.frederick.va.us) and tell him how you feel about what happened to the Roe family.
– While you’re at it, drop Clarke County Commonwealth Attorney Suni Perka (SPerka@clarkecounty.gov) a comment on how you feel about prosecution of adults that provide alcohol to minors.
– If you suspect that underage drinking may be going on at a neighbor’s house report it to Clarke County Central Dispatch (540.955-1234). Ask to remain anonymous if you feel the need.
– Demand that public resources, especially in our schools, be allocated to education and prevention of destructive decisions by teenagers.
– Most importantly, ask your local officials to provide explanations for why these tragedies don’t result in stiffer penalties and broader arrests.
Clarke County hasn’t forgotten its most recent underage drunk-driving tragedy that played out on a lonesome stretch of highway north of Berryville during a summer night last June 19th. In the aftermath of that accident, which claimed the life of a young Berryville man, our community rallied together and voiced the message that we had had enough. Since then we have seen that some people in our community still don’t “get” it when it comes to providing alcohol to kids.
As these cases make their way through the court system we ask the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and judges to send the message that we are tired of these senseless deaths and the collective behaviors that allow them to continue.
Let’s send the message for the Roe family even though they didn’t live in Clarke County.
Afterall, they were our neighbors before they were killed.