PCHS senior on quest to stop drunk driving

Published 11:16 am Friday, May 6, 2011

Amber Holt kneels in front of a wrecked car parked at Polk County High School as a reminder for students not to drink and drive on prom night tomorrow, Saturday, May 7. (photo by Leah Justice)

Amber Holt grew up hearing the tragic stories of family members she never knew who were killed in alcohol-related crimes. When her father also died in a drug-related crime, Holt’s world was changed. Now 16 years old, Holt is on a quest.
“I remember when I used to think it was just another thing that parents worried about too much, and then I lost my dad, who was my best friend, and my whole world changed,” said Holt. “Five years ago, I would have given everything I had to know the stuff I know now. And I’d give everything I have now just for one last chance to tell my dad I love him.”
Holt says her family’s history of being victims of alcohol and drug related crimes consistently over a 50-year period is a sign they should speak against impaired driving and do everything they can to educate people on the real and serious consequences of the crime.
Holt asked the Polk County Sheriff’s Office to place a wrecked car and sign at the high school this week to remind students prior to the prom tomorrow night, May 7, not to drink and drive. She is also doing her senior project on drinking and driving.
“It took me losing my dad to make me realize how serious drunk driving is, and I don’t want someone else to have to lose someone to realize that drunk driving is not okay,” Holt said. “People will get hurt and people will get killed.”
Holt’s family’s history is ridden with tragic deaths related to impaired persons.
First it was a distant relative who was killed by a drunk driver, then her great-grandfather was shot and killed by an impaired man, then her mom was severely injured as a toddler by a drunk driver. A great-aunt was then injured by a drunk driver and a great-uncle was killed by a drunk driver. Finally, on Aug. 19, 2006, Holt’s father Michael was killed at the age of 33, leaving behind wife, Tasha, and two children. Amber was just 12 years old. Her brother, Tyler, was 13.
In 1959, a distant family member to Holt was driving a motorcycle in Arizona and was killed by a woman driving a van under the influence.
In 1969, Holt’s great-grandfather, Paul Kuykendall, was shot and killed by a man who was under the influence of alcohol while Kuykendall was managing the Gas for Less convenience store in Tryon.
Holt’s aunt, Joyce Kimpton, was Kuykendall’s daughter and knows her family’s history of being victims of drunk drivers all too well. Joyce’s sister, Jean Newsome was severely injured years ago by a drunk driver who was driving a modified Corvette because he had lost his legs in a previous drunk driving crash.
On Jan. 11, 2004, Kimpton’s husband, Allen, was killed by a drunk driver at Bird Mountain near Landrum.
Kimpton quotes her mother as once saying, “It’s almost like they’re aiming for us,” and that’s just how Kimpton feels every time she’s in the car.
David Emon was convicted of felony driving under the influence and was sentenced to 8½ years in prison for Kimpton’s death. Emon could be released in March 2012.
Kimpton’s father’s killer was convicted of second-degree murder and received a 25-year sentence, but Kimpton said he only served 18 months.
“Repeatedly, it just keeps going,” Kimpton said. “The problem with the whole system is they slap them on the wrist and send them back out there. The impact on the driver is nowhere near what it is on the family. The drivers pay fines, serve their time and go on with their lives. The family never gets past it.”
Michael Holt was hit and killed by Ricky Parris, who was convicted of reckless homicide. Parris had no license when he hit Holt and 17 prior convictions of driving under suspension. Michael Holt was helping his brother fix a car on the side of the road in Spartanburg, S.C.
Parris was not convicted of driving while impaired although the prosecution argued that Parris was impaired from taking hydrocodone, Valium and Xanax. Parris was sentenced to 10 years in prison and could be released in four years.
“It’s not easy to wake up every morning knowing that the man that killed my dad walks out of jail free in just four years if not earlier,” said Holt. “It’s just not fair.”
Holt said her family gets a painful reminder of their loss around Christmas every year, when they receive a notice that Parris is asking for parole.
Holt said she started her senior project last year by doing a small assembly at the high school telling her story. She knows her facts and the statistics of drunk driving by heart. Perhaps her favorite fact is, “drunk driving is 100 percent preventable.”
Holt and the rest of the family say they despise the word, “accident,” when hearing of any impaired driving incidents.
Some statistics in Holt’s project include:
• Drunk driving is the cause of more deaths than all the United States’ wars combined
• Traffic crashes are the number one killer of teens
• North Carolina ranks 7th in the nation for alcohol related traffic deaths and number 1 in boating driving while impaired deaths
• Only one out of every 100 to 200 drunk drivers are caught
• One-third of all drivers who are arrested and convicted of driving while impaired are repeat offenders
Holt and her family are very active in Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) with Holt’s cousin, Wendy Kimpton, helping to form the Foothills Community Action Site of MADD.
“You don’t have to lose someone to know that drunk driving is dangerous; the statistics are there in black and white,” Holt said. “You hear the stories. Is it really worth it to risk your life, or someone else’s?”

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