Sharon Jurentkuff's voice wavered every once in a while. It's still hard for her to talk about her brother's accident, even after five years.
It was a late summer night in 1994 when her world changed. A drunk driver plowed into her brother's van on a dark road in Waterford, killing him instantly. Demmy Devenger was 47 and left a wife and two young daughters.
"How does a family recover from a loss such as Demmy?" Jurentkuff asked. "His daughters are 9 and 12 now. They have no dad. . . . We are still a family, but nothing is the same."
Jurentkuff was one of three speakers Friday morning at a gathering organized by the Loudoun County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, scheduled at the outset of the holiday weekend to remind residents not to drink and drive. Although it was only the second time she has spoken about the accident in public, she said she decided to do it to honor her brother--and to try to prevent even one more such death.
As during other long holiday weekends, roads are especially deadly over the Labor Day weekend because of the numbers of drivers who have been drinking, said Susan Cleveland, Loudoun president of MADD. In 1997, half of the 507 U.S. traffic deaths during the Labor Day weekend were alcohol-related, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Only New Year's Eve and New Year's Day were more dangerous than Labor Day.
Friday's gathering at the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Academy was also part of MADD's National Sobriety Checkpoint Week campaign.
In Loudoun and across the country, sobriety checkpoints are operating this weekend to try to get drunk drivers off the roads. The Loudoun County Sheriff's Office sets up about 15 sobriety checkpoints every year and had one somewhere in the county Friday night. Another checkpoint will be set up next weekend.
MADD volunteers keep the checkpoints stocked with coffee, doughnuts and other goodies for the officers.
"There are more drunks out there this weekend," said Brian Courneya, of the Sheriff's Office. "It's a nice longer weekend. A lot of people don't drive out of state, so there are a lot of local parties."
Usually, authorities target the roads where the most drunk drivers have been arrested in recent months, Courneya said. Officers keep a close eye on Route 7 east of Leesburg, Sterling Boulevard and the Route 28 corridor. Those three roads accounted for 40 percent of the county's 214 drunken driving arrests last year. And most of those arrests occurred between midnight and 4 a.m.
When a driver is stopped at a checkpoint, an officer asks whether he or she has had anything to drink and will ask the driver to pull over if an odor of alcohol is detected. There, an officer conducts a field sobriety test.
On average, one to five people are found drunk behind the wheel each night at a sobriety checkpoint and are arrested, Courneya said.
Because sobriety checkpoints are an effective way to remove drunk drivers from the streets, Courneya said, he wishes the department could have more throughout the year. But, he explained at the meeting, they don't have the manpower to increase the checkpoints.
And their job is getting harder, Courneya said. As the county's population has grown, so have the numbers of places to drink. But the Sheriff's Office hasn't grown as fast.
"The bars have grown tremendously, between Ashburn and Cascades and Lowes Island," he said. "They drink everywhere these days."