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Lives rearranged by drinking and driving

Bonnie Peterson and her son Craig Olmsted show a photo Thursday of Peterson's late husband, David Olmsted, who was killed in an accident caused by a drunk driver. Press Photo by Ashley Martin

Bonnie Peterson and her family were traveling through Minnesota to get home to Watford City when their lives were shattered in the blink of an eye.

A drunk driver rear-ended their vehicle sending Peterson's husband, David Olmsted, out the back window and killing him. The rest of the family was badly injured.

"My son (Craig Olmsted) tried to hang onto him as he was lifted out and he couldn't hang onto him," Peterson said. "My son has damage to tendons and muscles in his arms from trying to hold onto his dad."

The crash happened about 13 years ago.

"We are still paying the emotional and physical price," Peterson said.

Peterson's daughter, Brenda Olmsted, who was 19 at the time of the crash, will likely end up in a wheelchair.

"She has a really bad form of arthritis and it's deteriorating the bone, and they say it's from the injuries," Peterson said.

Local law enforcement is discussing ways to bring down drinking and driving rates, since 51 percent of North Dakota's vehicle fatalities in 2008 were alcohol related.

The state may also be in the top 10 list of states with the highest alcohol-related traffic fatalities in 2008, said Karin Mongeon, North Dakota Department of Transportation traffic safety office manager.

She added the state was also ranked number 10 in 2005. Mongeon said the list is usually released in June or later.

Sandy Wilson, program manager of the public safety office at the NDDOT, has been visiting law enforcement agencies across the state to find out what they can do decrease the number of drunk drivers.

"Our state has the attention of the federal government because of our high numbers," Wilson said. "They want to find ways to think outside the box and to find different ways to address this and really get to the core of the problem."

She and law enforcement are discussing ways to step up enforcement.

Educating the public and stepping up patrol may bring numbers down, said Lt. Rod Banyai, Dickinson Police Department.

"Manpower is always an issue," Banyai said. "We'll sit down and look at the programs that will work for the community and work for us."

Local agencies will have to look to grant money to cover overtime hours. However, Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy worries the extra overtime will wear on officers.

"You can only work people for so long before they start getting burnt out," Tuhy said.

He added more officers would help.

"The general public has to be aware of the problem and they have to take on some of the responsibility on their own," he said.

If the man who rear-ended Peterson's family had been more responsible, her family may not have been turned upside down.

The crash left Peterson with more than 20 injuries, including compressed vertebra, facial and hand injuries and a skull fracture.

"The skull fracture caused spinal fluid to run out of my ears," Peterson said. "My throat was sliced. It was stabbed, the windshield glass stabbed it, and then it slid sideways inside."

She has permanent brain damage which made her lose her math skills, affected her short-term memory, and has robbed her of some memories from her children's childhood.

"We not only lost my husband, but our health insurance, our home were also provided by his job," Peterson said, adding her husband was a minister. "We basically lost everything except our household belongings."

She also had to quit working since her asthma and injuries from the crash have disabled her.

"I'm deemed unemployable, so I'm on disability," Peterson said.

Craig Olmsted, who was 21 at the time of the crash, changed his mind about the career he was pursuing.

"If the wreck hadn't happened I'd probably be working as a cop somewhere," he said. "Because of that, I don't have the stomach for it."

Craig Olmsted is now a security guard, because he says he wouldn't be able to handle working with traffic accidents.

Peterson has tried to turn the incident into something positive by raising awareness about the hazards of drinking and driving. She shares her stories with those who have been convicted of alcohol-related crimes.

Peterson has remarried and lives with her husband, Pastor Dwight Peterson near Sturgis, S.D.