One young mother is in prison and her two young children are in the care of others. A city police officer lost his job.
A drunk driver in one way or another affects 1 in 3 people in the United States during their lifetimes. Those could be any three people in church, in a classroom or on a bus.
One of those was Dustin Ledford, a young man driving home on APD 40 from Walmart with bacon and eggs for breakfast the next morning.
Another was a police officer who was fired for allegedly mishandling evidence.
According to statistics, drunk drivers killed 284 people in Tennessee in 2010, but that number does not include the emotional toll on the survivors.
“I look at this map and I see those 10,347 people and I can’t help but think what they would have been,” said Kim Ledford, Dustin’s mom, as she held a map of the United States. The number of deaths was printed inside the boundaries of each state.
“I can’t help but think about the children they might have had. The spouses they would have married and the impact they could have made.
“I know the impact Dustin Ledford can make in Tennessee and the impact Dustin continues to make. He made an impact while he was living here with all the friends that he had, with all the people who loved him. He made a huge impact, but I can’t help but think he’s making a bigger impact now.”
Ledford said she forgave Tiffany Isaza for her actions three weeks after the wreck. She forgave Isaza, but not the act or the alcohol. She is mad at alcohol and the fact that someone sold it to Isaza and that she got intoxicated.
“I visited her in the nursing home where she was rehabilitating. I did it for myself. I told her that as a Christian, I had to forgive her. Does that mean I’m going to forget. Does that mean I’m going to let this go? No.”
She said it is difficult to explain how to separate forgiveness and anger, but she looks at what Christ did.
“He doesn’t like the sin we commit, but he loved us enough to die on the cross for us. I’m not comparing myself to Jesus, but I just know what he did for us,” she said. “If I don’t forgive her, then who am I to ask God to forgive me?”
The life she is living is not the one she would have chosen for herself or her family. It is the life dealt her.
“I think society thinks you should have a year to grieve — once you get through a year of Christmases, a year of birthdays, a year of Mother’s Days — but it doesn’t work like that. If you lose a child, it’s with you every day of your life. It’s something you can never escape.”
Memories come flooding in on her — sometimes at the oddest times when they are the least unexpected. But, the site where Dustin was killed is a constant reminder when she drives past.
“I would love not to go by that site everyday, but because of someone else’s choice, I don’t have a choice. I could go the long way to get to town, but there are so many things, so many memories. He had so many friends.”
Looking back on Dustin’s life in old newspaper stories, Dustin’s name appeared regularly in the Cleveland Daily Banner on honor rolls at Trewhitt Junior High and throughout his years at Bradley Central High School. His name showed up in the Banner on Oct. 15, 2003, on his 18th birthday.
He was a left-handed pitcher for the Bears baseball team, who like every other pitcher, won a few games and lost a few. On March 24, 2003, he helped the Bears beat the Cumberland County Jets by a 2-1 score.
“Brice Bynum led off with a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Dustin Ledford, who advanced to second on a perfect sacrifice bunt by Matt Spain. Ledford then went to third on a wild pitch before scoring the tying run on a squeeze bunt by pinch-hitter Blake Dixon,” a story told the following day.
On April 4, the Bears were handily defeated 7-0 by Blackmon. According to the article, “Ledford took the loss on the mound for the Bears and pitched well before running into trouble in the fifth inning. Bryce Bynum came on in relief to finish the game.”
On April 25, the Bears took a 7-3 win over Meigs County Tigers. “Robbie McIntire started on the hill for the Bears. He was relieved in the second inning by Dustin Ledford who tossed four scoreless innings at the Tigers to pick up the win. Dallas Holder finished up with a solid inning-plus of work to secure the win.”
It was a promising season for the Bears who finished one game short of the state tournament. “The Cinderella story of the 2003 Bradley Central Bears baseball team ended one game short of the State Tournament on Friday night at Bear Stadium in the State Sectionals, formerly the Sub-State, at the hands of perennial powerhouse, Murfreesboro Oakland by a lopsided final score of 20-2.”
On Oct. 15, 2004, “It’s a Special Day for Dustin Ledford, who is celebrating his 19th birthday today.”
He dropped off the paper’s pages after high school until January 2009, when Dustin, then 23, served as a pallbearer for his paternal grandfather, Johnny Ledford Sr.
Then on July 10, 2010, 24-year-old Dustin Ledford was killed by a drunk driver on APD 40.
Dustin, 24, was killed that evening in a two-vehicle crash on APD 40 shortly after 911 dispatchers issued a “Be on the lookout,” or BOLO, alert for a vehicle traveling north in the southbound lane.
According to reports, Tiffany Levi Isaza, 29, was driving a 2002 Ford Taurus in the wrong direction along APD 40 and struck Ledford’s 1990 Toyota Camry head-on as he drove home from Walmart.
“Death caused by driving under the influence is the most preventable there is because those people make a choice,” Kim Ledford said.
She said Isaza chose to get in the car after a domestic argument with her boyfriend. Authorities took the boyfriend to jail and left her in the house knowing she was intoxicated.
Ledford said Isaza left two 21-month-old babies at home by themselves, then drove down APD 40 for approximately five miles with a blood alcohol level of .24 — three times the legal limit.
Isaza was sentenced to a total of 10 years in prison; one year each for two counts of child abuse, neglect and endangerment; and eight years for vehicular homicide. She was denied parole in October.