Eagle County Victim’s Impact Panel implores locals to share their stories about impaired drivers
November 3, 2018
EAGLE — On Monday, Nov. 5, the Eagle County Victim's Impact Panel will convene for its final 2018 session.
Since the 1990s, the panel has met six times a year drawing crowds of 40 to 100 people. During the sessions, held at the Eagle County Building, victims of crimes involving drunken or stoned drivers share their stories with people recently convicted of driving under the influence charges. As part of their court order, offenders are required to attend the impact panel to gain understanding of the consequences of their crimes
The stories are heartbreaking. The parents of a local boy tell how they lost their son to a drunken driver. The young man and his girlfriend were both Colorado Mesa University students at the time, and they were driving along Interstate 70 when a drunken driver slammed into their car. Both teens lost their lives.
'About real people'
"Other people end up in a nursing home for the rest of their lives with massive brain injuries," said panel organizer Barb Schierkolk. "The panel is about real people in our valley who have been impacted."
For the people directed to the panel, the experience can be life-altering. Post-panel surveys often generate responses saying that the presentation hit its mark. Participants say hearing the stories made them truly appreciate the impact of their decisions to drive while under the influence.
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Additionally, student groups often attend the sessions, giving local kids the opportunity to see the real-life effects of driving under the influence.
"We don't know how many lives we have saved. But if one person chooses not to drive under the influence again, we may have saved his or her life and the lives of other drivers and families," Schierkolk said.
While Schierkolk is convinced the Victim's Impact Panel is a force for good in the community, she acknowledges the presentations can be difficult. For the people assigned to attend, that difficulty is by design because the whole point of the presentations is to make people aware of the heartache that can result from the thoughtlessness of driving while under the influence.
But it is also difficult on the people who are sharing their stories, she noted.
"It is hard to find people willing to speak on the panel," she said.
For some families, the pain of losing a loved one is just too raw to share. For others, it is too heartbreaking to revisit the loss.
"I tell people speaking about their loved one gives kids who never knew them the opportunity to meet them," Schierkolk said.
The panel also stresses its work as positive, not punitive, Schierkolk said.
Right now, she has a corps of around six presenters who speak at Victim's Impact Panel events. But knowing that it takes a toll on families to participate, Schierkolk would like to expand the group.
The Victim's Impact Panel meets every other month in Eagle. The first 2019 session is planned in January.
"We will help you with your story and guide you on your presentation, for the best impact to help others make the right choice not to drive under the influence," Schierkolk said. "If this is something that touches your heart, please contact me."
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