Honoring bright lights snuffed out by drunk drivers

by Jen Lynds

It was the girl’s beautiful smile that first caught my eye.

It was in our newspaper on March 18, the picture of the pretty, sandy haired young woman with the striking aqua eyes and the wide, welcoming smile.

It was obvious that the picture hadn’t been doctored, that she really was that beautiful in person. Her face just sprang off the page.

But unfortunately, that page was part of the obituary section.

No one will see that young woman in person in this life ever again.

The woman in the picture, Erin Elizabeth Dufour, is dead. She passed away four years ago, the day after St. Patrick’s Day, at age 29.

As a journalist who is naturally curious, I needed to know why. I had to find out how it was possible that those piercing eyes would never open again.

Research revealed that Erin, who attended Brewer High School for two years and also studied at St. Joseph’s College in Standish, was killed by a drunk driver in Sandisfield, Mass.

According to the Berkshire Eagle, Pamela N. Balsamo was driving southbound in the northbound lane of the road when she collided head-on with Erin’s car.

During her sentencing, Balsamo, who was 48-years-old at the time, apologized to the Dufour family and numerous friends who spoke emotionally about Erin.

I am sure that it did not lessen their pain that much. It is staggering how long 24 hours seems if you miss someone every second.

Balsamo received a 6- to 10-year state prison sentence for motor vehicle homicide.  She will be out of jail before Erin would have reached the age that Balsamo was when she got behind the wheel and killed her.

Erin’s picture appeared in the newspaper’s memorial section just as individuals in two states were planning their own acts of remembrance.

Each year, North Carolina resident Nicole Hutchinson participates in Walk Like Madd in Raleigh, NC in honor of her sister and youngest sibling, Darcie Hutchinson.

The 21-year-old Houlton High School graduate was killed Sept. 13, 1996, when Robert A. Milefski, a repeat drunk driver, plowed into her compact car and crushed it against a telephone pole.

Nicole soon became involved with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which works to prevent drunk driving, educate others about the consequences and strengthen OUI laws across the nation. This is Nicole’s 11th year taking part in Walk Like Madd, which raises money for the organization

Milefski expressed no remorse and uttered no apologies at his sentencing. He was ordered to serve five years in prison for manslaughter with a motor vehicle and driving while intoxicated.

He is now a free man.

I attended school with Darcie and played soccer with her on our varsity squad. Like everyone else, I absolutely loved her.

I am 35-years-old now, 14 years older than Darcie was when she was killed. Whenever I think of her, I grieve for all that she has missed.

Looking back at the past 14 years of my own life, I can’t imagine not having been here to experience it. I would have missed countless great times with my family and friends and the creation of thousands of pages of writing. I also would have never experienced the pride that I felt when my beloved older brother graduated from medical school.

I know that a lot of times, we just want time to move forward. But I imagine that Darcie’s family and friends would love to rewind time until they were with her again, and freeze themselves in that moment, if only for a little while.

Nicole Hutchinson will be walking on April 20, and you can click on this link to donate money to her team. She has already raised $3,855. A 4th annual walk in Darcie’s honor also will be taking place in Houlton that day, starting at 1 p.m. in the Houlton High School parking lot. The walk is free, but donations to MADD will be accepted.

Erin’s family has created the Erin Elizabeth Dufour Memorial Nursing Scholarship in her memory. Each year, two Brewer High School graduates receive assistance to pursue a nursing degree, something that Erin wanted to do.

Last year, a friend asked me what kind of superpower I would want to have if such a thing were possible.

“Editing,’ I said immediately. “I wish I had the power to edit lives, to erase all that was bad and pencil in everything good.”

But I know that will never happen.

And that realization makes my heart ache even more.