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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow THE LOSS OF A CHILD


Lt. Alan Zaugg (The Observer/T.L. Petersen).
Lt. Alan Zaugg (The Observer/T.L. Petersen).

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

Lt. Alan Zaugg is haunted.

Hes haunted by his forever 3-year-old daughter whose last words were Daddy, I love you, and hes haunted by his last memory of the accident that killed her, the sight of a pickup grill appearing in front of him.

It was the hope of Zaugg and other law enforcement and school officials that the drama of two days of the Every 15 Minutes program would haunt every teen thinking about drinking and then driving.

Sniffles and quiet sobs were already going around in the La Grande High School auditorium Thursday morning before Zaugg, a lieutenant with the Hillsboro Police Department who grew up in

La Grande, told his story about encountering a drunken driver on the interstate the night of Oct. 23, 1993.

Skits concerning a teen-age party set the scene, as teens planned and had a party. One boy chose to drive away despite pleas from others not to drive.

As police lights flickered across the darkened stage and the ghost of the innocent victim killed by a drunk driver left, Sarah Wattersons voice delivered a wrenching reading of the poem Death of Innocence.

When the lights came up, Meleeah Sheehy and Tracy Hett, mothers of Casey Sheehy and Laurie Hett, the students who played the role of victims of a drunk driver, read letters theyd written to their children the evening before.

Meleeah Sheehy told her son about the familys hopes for him and his future, while Tracy Hett first read a letter from Lauries father and then her own.

The Hett family, dealing this week with the death of Lauries paternal grandmother, talked about that loss, as well as the loss nine years ago of Lauries sister, who died of illness.

Laurie and Casey, seated at one corner of a casket on the auditorium stage, shared tissues and tears as they listened to their mothers before reading their own thoughts on the deaths that occurred the day before.

And then it was Zauggs turn.

He told about being a rookie officer and responding to a teen traffic accident in which one boy died, and having to hold that boys brother away from the vehicle.

He remembered thinking about how much pain the brother had to be feeling.

And then, as slides flashed onto a screen, he told about heading home to Union County from Portland to celebrate a family wedding and then go hunting.

He was driving with his ill daughter, Amanda, sleeping beside him. His wife was following behind in the family van with their other children.

His next memories are waking in the emergency room and having his wife tell him their daughter was gone and their 10-year-old son was in surgery, critically injured. And he was badly hurt.

Reliving the trauma, Zaugg talked about the lingering nightmares. He remembers his son coming to him after being awakened by a nightmare. He told his son he would take care of them and he would always be there to protect them.

And he remembers his son replying, But Daddy, you were there that night, too.

The Every 15 Minutes program relies on dozens of community sponsors and the time of volunteers. Emergency services agencies from the fire department, the police, the sheriffs department, the Oregon State Police, the Department of Transportation, the Center for Human Development and the Commission on Family and Children work with two dozen students to make the program realistic and dramatic to impress on the teen-agers that drunk driving kills or seriously injures someone in the United States every 15 minutes.

Reach T.L. Petersen at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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