One of our own again, Kathye Herrera, gave a very moving presentation that she has been giving for well over 25 years now to vast numbers of audiences. It was 27 years ago today, she said, that she buried Matt, her son, who was tragically killed in a truck accident. Her hope throughout the years, she said, was to help people understand what drinking and driving can do.
Kathye said that 7 years prior to quitting her job 46 years ago she was drinking and decided to move to California with her then 4 year old son. She could not find a job and ended up, she said, “drinking more and more and more” and overdosed because she was also taking pills at the time. She entered the San Bernardino Mental Ward and her Father, who was a part-time deputy here in Adrian, went to Judge Glaser and got custody of her son.
The next year Kathye was determined to get her life together and get her son back and she started attending AA. When she did regain custody he was still angry with her and scared she would leave him again. While it was a pretty rough time in her life “we made it”. Kathye then got married and returned to Michigan and started her life again which “wasn’t that good either”, she said, “but I did remain sober”.
However, on Memorial weekend when her son was 17, he asked his Mother if he could go to Archbold, Ohio with buddies to the Mud Bogs which Kathye said he could. Nobody checked the ages of anyone at the event, she said, and many were drinking.  When he returned after a full day there, he was the only sober one out of the six others he went with. Matt, she said, now had a choice to make.
He could have chosen to go back with his girlfriend who was there who had her own car and was sober. He could have even called her who would have gone right down there to bring him back but Matt, unfortunately, decided to return with those he went with. On the way home, the driver lost control of his vehicle on railroad tracks and Matt was the first one thrown from the pickup, she said, “sliding a quarter of a mile down the asphalt”. A policeman she knew went to her home and said “it’s bad”. Matt had been life-flighted to St. Vincent’s. A friend drove her to the hospital along with her other son, Mic, and Matt’s girlfriend.
Upon entering his room, she said, she saw he was hooked up to all kinds of machines and the extensive injuries were to his head, face and arms were indescribable. Eleven hours after being admitted, a nurse, she said, came in and told the family that Matt was brain-dead and they would be grateful if the family would agree to donating his organs. At first, Kathye said “no” but after further to speaking to the nurse, she agreed. One recipient was a retired fireman from Monroe. Three others were also recipients of Matt’s organs but have since passed away yet lived 13 more years because of Matt, Kathye said. Kathye said that Matt’s favorite holiday was always Christmas, ever since his death, she has never put up a Christmas tree.
Exactly one week after Matt’s death, Mic attempted suicide. He spent the next eight weeks in the Adolescent Psych Unit in Tecumseh. “He wouldn’t eat for three weeks, wouldn’t stop wearing Matt’s clothes, didn’t want to talk and had bad dreams”. He was medicated and “through the grace of God”, Kathye said, Mic connected with a person at the Psych Unit and “started to come around”. He felt guilty because he wasn’t there to keep Matt from getting in “that truck”. Kathye said she had the same guilt inside of her.
Mic would have another bout of depression and would attempt suicide once more and was admitted to Charter Hospital. Having come around again, he started high school. Mic too, Kathye said, faced a number of his own choices. “He didn’t do his homework, didn’t go to school many times and just hated life”. Kathye told him, however, that “you will graduate”. He would be hospitalized three more times for depression and for suicidal tendencies. Yet, Mic did graduate and thanked his Mother for pushing him. He got a job while he lived at home but one day she found marijuana in his bedroom, confronted him and told him he had to leave but could return if he could prove that he was longer using it.
He packed his bags and left. Within 2 months, she said, he was arrested and spent the next 6 years in prison for which she said she was grateful since the other 6 friends he hung around with had since overdosed and died.  Mic came home “determined to get his life together again”. He was on parole at the time and it “went pretty well for a while” but Kathye said she found out that while he’d turned 21, he was drinking and Kathye said that this was “not okay”. Mic has been in sobriety for 5 years now!
Kathye said that she is MAD! Mad at Matt for getting into that truck whose driver was drunk. She’s also mad at Jason, the driver of the truck who decided to drive after he’d been drinking all day. Kathye told the judge at his trial not to send him to jail even though it was his third drunk driving arrest. “He has a problem and he needs help”, she said. He was sentenced to 5 days in jail and a $50 fine but her family “had a life sentence”. Jason, Kathye said, had 2 more drunk driving arrests and 2 more accidents. He then started to do Meth and even ran a lab, was caught and sentenced to do a year in the Lenawee County Jail. Shortly after he was released he overdosed on OxyContin and died at 32 years of age. Two young men are dead, Kathye said, because of “bad choices”.
Kathye then went back to college to get her Master’s Degree in hopes of working with children who she could prevent going through what Matt did. She became the Executive Director of Big Brothers & Big Sisters and saw so many wonderful things “happen with that program” and often wonders what her kid’s lives would have been like had they had a club like that as they were growing up.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Kathye. What courage you have. What an ambassador you are to others who face similar issues and know that what you do and the experiences that you have can truly change other peoples’ lives!