On this Mother’s Day, Kim is torn between joy and sorrow. Joy, because she enjoyed almost 25 years of being the mother of Justin — sorrow, because she had to hear the news on July 10, 2010, that Justin had “succumbed to his injuries in an automobile accident.”
The fact that the accident was reportedly due to the other driver being under the influence — someone with children of her own — only compounded the grief.
“Dustin was the greatest joy I have ever had,” Ledford said. She said he always had a smile on his face and could always cheer up anyone around him with his ways. He was the only grandchild in Cleveland of both her parents and her husband’s parents.
Ledford had been told in July 1985 she would have to undergo a complete hysterectomy to save her life. She remembers she was devastated at the thought she and her husband would never have a child to be able to love and call their own.
A month later at church, a friend told her about a little girl who was pregnant and needed a home for her baby. Kim recalled the time when she was in the same situation years ago and what a tough decision she had to make concerning her unborn child — the toughest decision of her life, she said.
At age 12, Kim lost her father and in the aftermath of that loss, she became a rebellious child. Her mother remarried when Kim was 16, bringing out more strife and rebellion in the teenager. Four months later, she discovered she was pregnant.
She was told by her doctor she had four options: marry the child’s father; have an abortion; place the child for adoption; or raise the child on her own. Since marrying the baby’s father was out of the question, she didn’t believe in abortion and there was no way she could be the mother the child needed, she was convinced the best thing for her child was to give it the life it deserved.
She gave birth to a little girl in 1977 and the baby was adopted from the Baptist home where she was staying. Little did she know God’s plans for her own life, Kim said. It was 18 years later that Kim was reunited with her daughter, after she and her husband adopted their son.
On Oct. 15, 1985, the Ledfords brought home their beautiful baby boy from the hospital. They named him Dustin (valiant) Nathanael (Gift of God). Growing up, “he was the happiest child,” Kim said. “He could make you laugh, cheer you up and made many friends.”
From the time Dustin was 4 years old, Kim said he played baseball. He started at Industrial Park and Blue Springs Ball Park. He attended Oak Grove Elementary, where he played basketball and Lake Forest Middle School, where he played basketball and baseball. A left-handed pitcher, he was one of the fastest on his team at Bradley Central High School, where he graduated in 2004. He attended Cleveland State Community College after graduating high school.
“I remember his first steps, his first tooth, our first trip to Disney World, his high school proms, every birthday and all his Christmases, when his eyes would light up when Santa came,” Kim said.
But with all the joy their son brought to the Ledfords, it came to an abrupt end with a phone call on July 10, 2010.
“I heard words no mother ever wants to hear,” Kim said. The message was: “Mrs. Ledford, I’m sorry to tell you, but your son has succumbed to his injuries in an automobile accident.”
Their world crashed. Kim said, “I have never known such pain and didn’t know my heart could hurt so much. There is a physical pain that comes with the death of a child that cannot be imagined unless you have experienced it.”
The mother laments the fact she will never see her son graduate from college, never see him stand at the altar in the church watching the love of his life walk down the aisle, never see him celebrate any more birthdays.
“He was a son, a grandson, a cousin, a fiancé and a father to Serenity, the daughter of Lyndsay, the girl he was going to marry. He and Lyndsay had met on Halloween night in 2006 and fell in love,” said Kim.
Instead of shopping for gifts for her son, Kim buys flowers for his grave. “It isn’t supposed to happen like this,” she added.
No longer will Kim hear her son call, “Hey Mom, what are you doing?” or “Love you, Mom,” or “Happy Mother’s Day — I love you.” And there will never be a birthday cake for Dustin with 25 candles.
But Kim Ledford is not drowning in her sorrow. She said she knows that despite laws and MADD, this kind of thing will still happen, but she’s making every effort to minimize the occurrence of such tragedies.
She feels she has received a mandate to do something and is on a mission to turn tragedy into something good. “I don’t want this to happen to another parent,” she said.
“God,” she added, “has given me the ability to be able to do this. And, God is using this to deliver a message from Justin.”
She has spoken at several schools about the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. She is working also with state Rep. Eric Watson in getting “Dustin’s Law” passed. This bill (1038 House Bill) states basically if the blood alcohol level is .20 or higher, it becomes aggravated vehicular homicide, which carries a longer prison term. The bill has already passed two committees and is going to the Finance Committee.
“I feel like what I’m doing is for everybody,” Kim said “... they won’t have to go through this. I can’t change the past, but I can change the future by fighting for this.”
T-shirts with Dustin’s photo on the front and on the back, the words: “Killed by a drunk driver and I’m MADD” are being sold to raise funds to support the campaign.
On June 4, a bus will be leaving Waterville Baptist Church at 7 a.m. for anyone who wants to participate in the MADD walk in Nashville at 10 a.m. (CDT). People can also donate online at walklikemadd.org (click on Nashville/team Dustin). For more information, call 715-3157 or 715-1960.