Martha Proctor still has nightmares of last Christmas Eve, when a Glen Burnie carpenter rammed into her car on Rte. 97 near Mount Airy, killing five members of her family.
Proctor's daughter Tanya, who was injured in the crash, is trying to decide whether to try to have more children to replace the three she lost. Proctor's other daughter Sheilia has gone off to college in Oklahoma to start a new life and try to get over losing her brother, with whom she was very close.
And so the surviving members of the Proctor family try to put their lives back together, now that carpenter Kevin Cooper has been convicted of manslaughter by auto and driving while impaired by alcohol, among other counts.
The Proctors were driving to a church Christmas pageant when the accident occurred at 3:55 p.m. Martha Proctor, 45, had less than two seconds to react from the time she saw Cooper's car coming toward her in her lane, an accident reconstruction witness testified during the trial.
Those seconds still haunt Proctor. In one nightmare, she said, "I could see two ambulances driving down my side of the road and I woke up saying, 'Not again; not again!' "
The accident may have been hardest on Tanya, 22, said her mother. All three of Tanya Proctor Jeanette's children--Rebecca Ann, 3; Pauline Marie, 19 months, and Ruth Ann, 5 weeks--had been born by cesarian section. Jeanette then decided not to have any more children and underwent a tubal ligation. Doctors cannot assure her that corrective surgery will allow her to conceive again, Martha Proctor said.
Sheilia, 17, has held up pretty well, despite the fact that she and her brother Roger, 14, who died in the accident, were very close.
After Sheilia testified at the trial, Proctor drove her to Oklahoma State University to begin college.
The accident also killed Proctor's son Terry, 23.
Shortly after the accident, Proctor's husband, Col. Richard Proctor, said he and his family had given Kevin Cooper their "personal forgiveness" and sought no revenge for the deaths he caused.
But that changed somewhat during the trial, Richard Proctor said today. "I was really upset when Cooper said he wasn't drunk at the time of the accident even though he had drunk seven beers," Proctor said. "It's inconceivable that a man could admit he had that much beer and that it had no effect on his reflexes."
Proctor said he was also angered when Bruce E. Enz, vice president of the Institute for Safety Analysis in Rockville, testified for the defense that Martha Proctor had contributed to the accident by steering into Cooper's lane.
Martha Proctor said she could only smile when she heard that. "If I had gone to the right of the highway , there would have been no trial," she said, "because Kevin Cooper and I would have been dead."
"I really thought we were going to escape," Proctor continued. "My children also thought were were going to escape. No one cried out or screamed. When they told me in the hospital that my children were dead, I found it incredible."
"In a tragedy like this there really are no winners," Martha Proctor said. "The best we can hope to do is alert the public to the drunk driving problem on our highways. Convicting people in cases like this might be the only way to show people they can't drink and drive and get away with it."
Last week, the Proctors filed a civil suit against Cooper in Carroll County Circuit Court. The suit requests damages in the amount of the limit of Cooper's automobile liability insurance. Neither family will say what that limit is.
Richard Proctor said he and his wife plan to write about their experience as a further means of making the public more sensitive to the problem of alcohol abuse.
And Proctor said his family continues to pray for Kevin Cooper.
"We know this whole thing has been hard on the Coopers. We became particularly concerned when we heard that his father died while Kevin was in the hospital," Proctor said. "When Kevin Cooper says he's sorry for what he did, we believe him.
"But that doesn't bring our children or our grandchildren back."