Daughter's memory lives on through mother's dedication

Statistics will never be able to tell a family's story of how the members grieve over the death of a child killed by a drunk driver.

For Judy Jacoboni, the loss of her 22-year-old daughter, Michelle, nearly 10 years ago forever scarred any hopes she had to see her daughter live out her own goals: To own her own hair salon; to get married; to raise a family.

"She had big dreams," Jacoboni says now of Michelle. "And she was moving those dreams in the direction that she wanted. Things were going well for her."

Michelle died after the car she was driving was hit head-on by a drunk driver less than a mile from her family's Dayton home.

It happened on April 18, 1990. It was the second death of one of Jacoboni's 10 children. Her daughter Adina died eight years earlier of a rare liver cancer. Adina was only 11 years old.

Since Michelle's death, a lot has happened to the Jacoboni family. The Jacobonis came to Nevada in a trailer from the Bay area to build a future for their children.

The family business, Jacoboni Plastering and Tile in Mound House, has flourished and has become a widely respected and successful operation in Northern Nevada. The business has done so well that it spawned a new business, Tahoe Pool & Spa Construction in Carson. Several of Judy's children, all of whom are now adults, work alongside their father and mother in both businesses.

But it is indeed Michelle's memory that continues to live on with the family and through the efforts of Judy and her association with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Two years to the date of Michelle's death, a MADD chapter was chartered in Lyon County. It was the first in Northern Nevada.

"There was a lot of pain and feelings of loss when I first began this," Jacoboni said of her organizing and creating the chapter. "We were grieving, but it was very different because we had been through it before. When something like this happens, you want to see to it that it never happens again to anyone."

It was only a few weeks before Michelle's death that two people died in a DUI-related car crash on the same stretch of road along Highway 50 near Dayton.

The community had had enough, Judy said.

"These were residents of our town killing other residents. It had to stop," she said.

The outpouring of support from the community has swelled throughout the years, now having more than 200 due-paying members. MADD is active in Northern Nevada schools, with Jacoboni giving regular presentations to classes. She also serves as the chapter's victim advocate.

She was recognized Sunday by the national chapter of MADD, receiving the Make a Difference Award.

As an advocate, Jacoboni works with victims and the families and lends her support in whatever ways she can.

She does so through listening and being with them during the grieving or by helping with court proceedings.

When someone does go to trial for a drunk driving crime in which there was a victim, Jacoboni encourages the victims and families to speak out.

"The voice of the victim is a very effective tool to get your point across to a judge," she said. "To hear what the impact of the crime had on a person is one thing.

"But to put a name and a face to it personalizes it, makes it possible for the victim to feel they are getting the justice they desire."

She has also been active on the political end as well.

During the 1995 legislative session, a law was passed that forces the state to notify victims' families when a prisoner is up for parole.

And another law now requires that those guilty of DUI crimes to attend a victim's impact panel as part of their sentencing.

There have also been defeats, such as bills introduced but were not passed that would make it illegal for someone to drive who had a blood-alcohol index of 0.08. The current law is 0.10.

And while there is much work to be done in educating citizens about drinking and driving, the program has made a difference. Nationally, statistics show that fatalities involving drinking and driving have declined by 40 percent over the 20 years that MADD has been in operation.

Website: http://www.madd.org/


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