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Alcohol & Tears

October 28, 2011, 10:01 PM by Erich Schaffhauser

Alcohol & Tears
LOWER BRULE, SD - It was one of the hardest days of a Lower Brule mother's life when she arrived to a crash scene where she learned her daughter was dead.

And now Elaine Johnson is speaking out, saying the accident could have been avoided had it not been for alcohol.

Flowers still sit along at the crash site along a road just south of Lower Brule. For Johnson, haunting memories line it too.

"It's unreal that my baby ain't coming home. My sister, I can't call her on a daily basis," Johnson said.

Johnson was working for the Crow Creek Ambulance in Fort Thompson August 2. They got a call to respond to Lower Brule.

"And I remember saying to my partner, I said, 'I hope it's nobody that I know.’ It's a small community; I have a lot of relatives there," Johnson said. "And then we got on scene and the officer came up and told me it was my family. My heart dropped."

"Then afterwards when it hit, I was crushed," Johnson said. 

Five people died in the crash, one of them was her 10-year-old daughter, another was her 32-year-old sister.

Four people survived with injuries. One of them was the driver of the other vehicle, Tessa Crane of Lower Brule. Authorities say she was drinking and driving.

"My reality now is that my baby isn't coming home. I can't hold her; I can't kiss her," Johnson said.

As the case still makes its way through the legal system in Lyman County, Crane hasn't been convicted but she is charged with vehicular homicide, DUI, driving without a license and other charges related to the crash as well.

Lyman County sheriff Steve Manger was on scene of the crash. He's seen far too many in his career.

"You know it's extremely frustrating just for the fact that this could have been avoided,” Manger said. “People make poor decisions and drive while they're intoxicated. And it's sad, very sad.”

Of the 140 deaths to crashes last year in South Dakota, almost 50 of them were alcohol related. More than a third of the victims were less than 30 years old.

"It's the absolutely toughest job for me or any law enforcement officer when you do have to go to someone and say, 'Your son, your daughter, your husband, your wife has been killed in an accident,’" Manger said.

"I wouldn't ever want to wish anything like this on anybody. If it could be prevented, that's what I would like," Johnson said.

Johnson hopes that sharing her story will forever serve as a warning to others.

"Don't do it. Just, if you're going to drink alcohol, have someone responsible with you,” Johnson said. “When you're drinking and driving there is the real possibility that you could harm other people."

Johnson keeps pictures of her daughter stored on her phone and her ashes around her neck to remind her of the girl that isn't coming home.

She doesn't want anyone else to forget either.

"It changed our lives forever. All I want is for her to realize that, for anybody to realize that," Johnson said.

The number of drivers killed last year in alcohol related accidents was down from the year before and from a five-year average. But Johnson urges everyone to think of that number as being too high until it's zero.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
A misspelling was corrected in this story.

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