Andrew Gonzalez, a 19-year-old killed by a drunk driver

By: Rosie Cardenas

As the countdown begins to Christmas, my mood becomes a little more somber.  You see, I used to love Christmas: the decorations, the family gatherings, but most of all I loved buying presents for my boys. Today, I dread the holidays; the memories of that horrible night haunt me.

It was December 19, 2009. The boys were spending the weekend with their dad; Andrew was 19, Chris, 16.

I was awakened from my sleep at 5 a.m. by a phone call from the boys’ father. He said Andrew had been in an accident. He then explained that the kids involved were taken to Ryder Trauma Center, and that Andrew had lost consciousness, but that he was okay.

As I rushed to get there, I called Ryder Trauma and I was told Andrew was not there. I took that as a good sign – after all, people are only taken to Ryder Trauma for serious injuries, right? I called every other hospital in the area, but Andrew wasn’t registered in any of them. I was relieved, but I decided I would still drive to Ryder Trauma. It never occurred to me that my worst nightmare was about to come true.

“He’s not here,” I was told by hospital staff when I arrived. “But someone will come speak with you shortly.”

Still, it didn’t dawn on me what was going on. I was fairly calm and hopeful that everything was going to be okay.

After what seemed to be hours – but was probably only minutes –  we were taken into a small room. I was told there had been a serious accident, but they had no definite answers for me. I was asked a series of questions about Andrew: his hair color, height, etc. Then, I asked, “Did anyone die in the accident?” I was told one person died. At that moment, I collapsed to the floor.

The next few hours can only be described as the most grueling, horrific, gut-wrenching hours of my life. Six people were involved in the accident; one of them died, but was it my son?  We were eventually led to that horrible little room again, where they confirmed that Andrew was that one who didn’t survive. My son. My beautiful son. My first born. My love. All I could think was, “God, how could this have happened?”

My beautiful, smart boy was killed by a drunk driver. He was seated in the backseat behind the driver, as another car – driven by a drunk driver – T-boned them.

What happened over the next few days are still a blur. I have no recollection of how I functioned. I remember being asked to pick out clothes for his funeral. I chose the clothes that were supposed to be his Christmas present, just one week later.

I have very little recollection of the funeral, but I do remember a video playing, picture after picture of Andrew, with Beatles music in the background.

My dreams of a big family are gone. I will never attend his graduation, his wedding, or have a grandchild from Andrew – all those dreams were taken from me the day he died. My son, Chris, lost his best friend, his mentor, the closest person to him. I sometimes feel I have lost my ability to love. My senses have become numb, because that is the only way I can cope. This Christmas – the ninth without my Andrew – will be another sad holiday.

As all the festivities of the season approach, I can’t help but be scared. How many people will be out there, behind the wheel, after having one too many drinks? How many families will have to bury their loved ones as I did?

Let’s please stop this insanity. Drinking and driving is not okay – EVER.  Have a plan before you drink, not after. Have a designated driver, or call Uber or Lyft. Doing so will help you stay safe this holiday season.

Rosie Cardenas is the mother of Andrew Gonzalez, a 19-year-old killed by a drunk driver in December 2009. Cardenas works closely with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), a nonprofit organization that seeks to stop drunk driving, prevent underage drinking, and strive for stricter impaired driving policy. For more information on MADD and how you can stay safe during the holidays, visit madd.org.