TxDOT sign offers remembrance and hope

 

A small group gathered on the south side of Texas 105 West at Sapp Road on Thursday as TxDOT unveiled Montgomery County’s first Memorial Sign for Victims of Impaired Driving.

The sign bears the name of 18-year-old Meghann Smith of Montgomery, who was struck and killed by an intoxicated driver near that location on Oct. 26, 2008.

The car Smith was traveling in with her boyfriend had a flat tire and they had pulled off of the road while the young man changed it. Smith was standing by the car when she was hit. She was pronounced dead on the scene.

The blue and white sign erected on Thursday morning reads, “Please don’t drink and drive, in memory of Meghann Smith, October 26, 2009.” Smith’s parents, Margaret and Doug “Smitty” Smith were joined by Meghann’s sister, Shannon, and a few close friends for the small and informal event.
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Margaret Smith was overcome by emotion when the sign was uncovered by Montgomery County TxDOT maintenance employee Jason Smith.

“It’s very painful to see the sign because I’m still wanting her to come home, and it’s very painful to see her sign up there with her name on it,” Margaret Smith said.”But if we can bring awareness to people not to drink and drive so that other families don’t have to go through the pain we’re going through, that’s what it’s all about.”

The distraught mother said it was not only Meghann’s family who lost something when she died, but everyone around her.

“Everywhere she went, (Meghann) left laughter and she left a smile on people’s face- That’s what Meghann was all about and that’s gone,” Margaret Smith said. “We don’t have that anymore because a drunk driver decided to get in her vehicle and drive drunk.”

Kacey Kelley, another Montgomery teen, was present for the unveiling and said she thought of Meghann as a sister. The pair grew up on the same street and were inseparable. When Kacey was told Meghann was killed, she said at first she was convinced it was a bad practical joke because Meghann had always been such a prankster. Meghann’s mother and others also commented on her love of practical jokes and overall sense of humor.

While remembering those traits may bring some comfort to Meghann’s loved ones, her dad is also devoting every spare minute to taking drunk drivers off of Montgomery County roads.

Doug Smith created the DWI Tracker program in memory of his daughter. He drives a white pickup truck that is clearly marked with those words and has a photograph of Meghann on the tailgate. During peak DWI hours, he drives and parks near establishments where alcohol is served. Often times, his mere presence stops drinking and driving, as people see his truck and decide to find another way home. Others who have had too much to drunk must learn the hard way. When Smith sees a vehicle pull onto the road swerving or showing other signs the driver is impaired, he follows at a safe distance and when he is convinced the driver is a danger to himself and others, Smith notifies law enforcement. The DWI Tracker program has been responsible for numerous arrests of people who were stopped and found to be intoxicated.

“A drunk driver killed our daughter and we can’t bring her back, but our goal is to keep it from happening to another family,” Doug Smith said.

The Smith family will never be whole again, but Doug Smith takes some amount of comfort in being proactive to protect other families.

“Once you get that knock on the door from police saying your child or your loved one’s been in an accident, it’s a little late to be trying to do anything about it,” he said. “I’m trying to stop people before there’s a crash.”

TxDOT began the sign program in 2007, but many people remain unaware of it. The signs cost $300 and remain posted for one year, then are given to the victim’s family. Applications are available online, along with a list of requirements and other information.

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