OCEAN CITY – Jessica Tracy is an unwilling member of a club bonded by tragedy.
In 2010, Tracy’s cousin, Chad Michael Horne, 22, was killed in an accident involving a drunk driver.
So on Sunday, Tracy, along with family members, walked on the Ocean City Boardwalk in the John R. Elliott HERO Walk as a way to remember Horne, a Brookdale Community College student with goals, and a smile that lit up every room he walked into, she said.
Those walking in Horne’s memory on Sunday wore T-shirts with Horne’s bucket list printed on the back. The list was found in Horne’s wallet after his death.
Based on the list, Horne aspired to win a Nobel Prize “or two,” to graduate from college with top grades, marry and have a family, travel, and to “die a peaceful death at a ripe old age surrounded by family and with a smile on my face.”
Horne was acting as a designated driver when the vehicle he drove was struck by a drunk driver, Tracy said.
“It’s a positive way to remember him,” said his sister, Melanie Horne, of Freehold. “When holidays pass and you miss somebody, that’s kind of difficult, but when you do something like this and you know you’re trying to make some kind of positive change, you feel a lot better about that.”
“We just love the Elliott’s message of ‘yes, we know you’re going to drink, but do it responsibly so this club of people here in memorial of their lost loved ones doesn’t grow,’” Tracy said. “We want to save other families from this tragedy.”
John Elliott, for whom the walk is named, was killed in July 2000, in a collision with a drunk driver.
Elliott, then a recent graduate of the United States Naval Academy, was driving from Annapolis, Md., to southern New Jersey for his mother’s birthday when the accident occurred.
Elliott was from Egg Harbor Township.
In October 2000, his family formed the John R. Elliott HERO Campaign, which promotes being a designated driver and for others to use designated drivers.
In 2001, the John Elliott Law was passed in his memory. This law allows police in New Jersey to impound vehicles of drunk drivers for 12 hours, and requires allegedly drunk drivers to be detained until they are sober, or until a friend/relative takes written responsibility for the intoxicated person, to make sure they do not drive while drunk.
A second law passed in 2003, John’s Law II. This allows New Jersey municipalities the ability to pass laws requiring police to keep a drunk driver in protective custody for eight hours or until the person’s blood-alcohol content is below .05. In 2005, the federal John’s Law was signed, which offers federal high safety funds for states which impound vehicles of drivers suspected of driving under the influence.
Since the HERO Campaign was formed, the campaign has expanded to include seven states, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, Massachusetts, Maryland, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania, and works with schools, law enforcement, community groups, professional sports teams, and taverns and restaurants to further their message of preventing drunk driving.
On Sunday, Bill Elliott, John’s father, announced a new partnership with the Uber ride-sharing service and a new HERO ID card.
The ID card, which can be downloaded from the HERO Campaign website, allows a designated driver to go to a participating bar and tavern and receive a free soft drink when the ID card is presented.
Also on Sunday, a commercial for the HERO Campaign to promote designated driving and using a designated driver was filmed. Elliott said it will air on cable television and on YouTube.
“The movement we’ve created, I hope, is one where no matter how you get home, make sure it’s with someone who hasn’t been drinking,” Elliott said. “The options (to do that) are increasing all the time.”
Before the walk began, Elliott addressed the walkers, and said the reason they were there is to ensure a memory banner did not grow. The banner has pictures of victims of fatal drunk driving accidents on it.
“There’s still too many people being killed and injured by drunk driving….We want to make sure when people leave stadiums, when they leave parties, when they leave weddings, when they leave bars and taverns, that they have a safe ride home,” Elliott said.
Ryan Schleyer, 9, was among those on the banner.
In 2011, the Hammonton boy was killed by a drunk driver.
Leonard Schleyer, Ryan’s father, described his son as athletic.
For five years, a team in Ryan’s memory has participated in the HERO Walk.
On Sunday, the team included 70 people.
Schleyer said he liked that the walk raises awareness.
Sherri Branca said her son, Ricci Branca, of Egg Harbor Township, was killed in an accident with a drunk driver 10 years ago.
Her son died on July 18, 2006, four days after being hit by a drunk driver while he was riding his bicycle with friends into Ocean City from Egg Harbor Township.
Ricci, Branca said, was an extremely outgoing person who was family oriented and made others laugh. He was a BMX rider who she described as loving and caring.
In 2010, Ricci’s Law, named in his memory, was signed into law.
The law raised standards for installation of ignition interlock devices in cars for those convicted of drunk driving. The law states a first time offender with a blood-alcohol level more than .15 must install an ignition interlock device in the person’s main vehicle, and more.
Ricci Branca, Sr., Ricci’s father, said on Sunday he would like to see more politicians become involved with and attend the HERO walk and campaign.
Sherri Branca said she liked supporting the Elliotts and the HERO Campaign, which she said was a “good cause” against drunk driving.
“Everyone’s got to stick together … and everyone’s got to do something about it,” Branca said.
Kristen Kelleher, Ocean City Sentinel | October 6, 2016