Nine years ago this month, Carla James was driving east near Liberty Lake toward Rathdrum when a westbound car crossed the centerline and collided with her vehicle.
Investigators would later say that James likely saved the lives of three others in the car – including her two children – by swerving in an attempt to avoid the crash. James did not survive.
The driver who caused the collision had been using marijuana and prescription drugs. James was 37 at the time of the crash.
A row of photos known as the “Memory Wall” has been part of the conference room at the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council Prevention Center in Spokane Valley since 2007. Each individual depicted on the wall lost his or her life as a result of substance abuse, from overdoses to crashes caused by impaired drivers. Photo by Craig Howard
Carla’s mother, Anita Kronvall, still places flowers at the scene of the incident and honor’s Carla’s memory on a daily basis. She also pays tribute to her daughter by speaking regularly to groups about the dangers of impaired driving and the impact of substance abuse as part of a DUI Victims Panel with the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council. Those arrested for impaired driving attend the classes as part of a court-ordered sentence.
“I’m trying to tell Carla’s story so other people don’t have to go through what we did,” Kronvall said. “I’m trying to make a difference.”
Kronvall also contributes to a victims’ coalition with the Kootenai County Substance Abuse Council where she has served as director for the past five years. Her efforts include calling attention to the damage caused not only by drinking and driving but by motorists who abuse drugs, whether illegal or prescription.
“Impaired driving is impaired driving,” she said.
On the east wall of the GSSAC office on Sprague Avenue near Park Road in Spokane Valley, Carla’s framed picture is part of a unique display called the “Memory Wall,” a simple row of over two-dozen photos in remembrance of local residents who have lost their lives as a result of direct or indirect substance abuse. Some suffered fatal overdoses, others, like James, were victims of impaired driving. One young man, Matt Migaki, was killed after being shot during a marijuana deal.
Linda Thompson, executive director of GSSAC since 1993, has her own story to tell about one of the individuals on the Memory Wall. Her 3-year-old son Trevor was killed by a drunken driver in 1986 while walking along the side of the road.
Like Kronvall, Thompson channeled her pain into activism, initially volunteering to speak with the DUI Victims Panel in Idaho, then helping to launch the Spokane version before taking over as GSSAC director 18 years ago. Thompson said the Memory Wall, which went up the same year the agency celebrated its 25th anniversary, serves as a reminder regarding the importance of the work.
“These are people, not statistics,” Thompson said. “It’s about what can happen and being part of the change.”
Ken Zigler is one parent who is dedicated to the sort of transformation that Thompson promotes each day. Zigler’s son, Tim, was a sophomore at Ferris High School in 2006 when he died from an overdose of prescription methadone given to him by a fellow student. The same year Tim passed away, the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office reported 91 deaths from prescription drug overdoses. Tim died after taking only 10 milligrams of methadone.
Since 2006, Ken has been vigilant in warning about the damage wrought by prescription drug abuse. He speaks throughout the year at schools in the area, distributes flyers and even keeps a magnetized sign on his car that alerts people of the risk.
“I talk to everyone I meet about what this stuff is doing,” Zigler said. “I’ve got to feel like Tim’s death wasn’t for nothing. We don’t want these kinds of things to happen anymore.”
James said her work as an advocate is about “trying to make a difference.”
“Even if one person changes their behavior, it may have saved one life,” she said.
In addition to the victims panel, GSSAC helps coordinate a variety of programs connected to a mission statement of “reducing substance abuse and violence in Spokane County.” The agency sponsors Washington Drug Free Youth chapters at dozens of schools throughout the area, coordinates a Meth Action Team and facilitates programs like Meth Watch and RX Watch that generate community awareness and involvment.
“As long as we turn a blind eye to it and say, ‘It’s not in my neighborhood,’ then it’s going to be there,” Thompson said. “This is something that we all need to be aware of and address. My goal is to keep people off that wall.”
Want to find out more?
To learn more about the programs offered through the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council or to volunteer, call 922-8383. Additional information on drug and alcohol treatment and prevention is available online at www.gssacpreventioncenter.com, www.drugfree.org or www.nida.nih.gov.