Her gift is an amazing eye for photography. Her work is simply breathtaking. I'll call her "Susan." She's 23 years old and feels lucky to be alive. She recalls the day she got behind the wheel while drunk. The accident she caused left no fatalities like the one in Diamond Bar this weekend that left six dead. Still, "Susan" says "it could have been me."
I know "Susan" through her work. Coincidently, on the say day of the Diamond Bar tragedy she happened to tell me the story of the day she got a DUI. She'd been on a job photographing a DJ at a nightclub. Angry after a problem with her camera, she started drinking. One drink turned to five. "Vodka, tequila, everything" she says. "Susan" doesn't even remember getting in the car and driving the wrong way on the freeway. Her memory is of waking up to the smell of gasoline and burned rubber. Her hand reached up to touch the airbag before she blacked out again. She woke up again and saw a fireman was holding her hand. She blacked out yet again.
"Susan" tells me she lives with guilt. She hit one car head on and side swiped another. She says all motorists went to the hospital but suffered minor injuries. This weekend there was a far more tragic story. Police say a 21 year-old woman driving the wrong way on the 60 Freeway caused a horrific crash that killed six, including the driver's own sister. "Susan" says news of this "breaks my heart."
While "Susan's" not ready to go public with her own story, she shares it with all of her friends. She says "so many people drink and drive, it's crazy, everyone does it." She says she "gets super upset if people do it around me, but it's hard to say it. People don't listen." According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune the young driver in the Diamond Bar tragedy had a prior DUI and her 24 year old sister who was killed had three DUI convictions.
"Susan" says she got sober for a while but admits she still loves to drink with friends. She says she feels guilty and blessed all at the same time. She totaled her car in the accident and relies on the train or friends for transportation. She lost her license for two years. She's lost jobs because she can't get there. "Susan"also goes to church and is working on her demons, working on "being honest with herself." She realizes she has an addictive personality. She knows she "can get lost in certain addictions." She says addiction runs in her family.(I too understand addiction in a whole other way. My brother died of a cocaine overdose and I was there to identify the body.)
"Susan" says she is ashamed and knows there's nothing she can do to change what happened to the innocent people she hit that night one year ago. Perhaps telling her story will help just one person. "You always have to have a designated driver" "Susan" insists. "You could change so many people's lives."
Olivia Carolee Culbreath, a 21-year old from Fontana, changed many lives this weekend. She was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and is facing prison time if convicted. She will live with the fact her sister is dead and leaves behind a new baby. Families of all six deceased are left grieving.
I thank "Susan" for allowing me to tell her story. I write this for the 19 year old with us who also heard her story. He is a young man who will soon be behind the wheel. As "Susan" continues to work behind the camera I can tell you her work ranges from beyond standard to stunning to mesmerizing. She has a true gift and I feel blessed she is here to share it not only with those who love and care about her but with those who might only see it for a moment.