A light at the end of the tunnel
Parents of Laurel Alice Williams start new foundation in her honor to offer scholarships,
help other parents and teens
by Janet Pelletier
Friday, October 31, 2008
It's been one year since Laurel Alice Williams' life was tragically taken in a drunken driving crash on Foothill Road.
Ken Williams and Kathy Pace Williams, Laurel's parents, can't believe it's been that long already.
"The world stops for you and for everyone else, it just goes on," Ken Williams said on a recent afternoon in Moller Park, where they held a gathering of nearly 100 people to honor their daughter last Sunday. "It hurts worse than anything you can imagine."
For Pace Williams, it's been understandably difficult to cope after that fateful day--Oct. 20--giving her as she remembers it just 19 years, 10 months and four days to spend with her only daughter.
"The loss of a child is one of the greatest losses," she said. "I still think she's going to walk through my door. I believe that I'll see her again. I have to believe that."
It was Laurel's friend Katie McKewon, now 20, who was at the wheel that Sunday morning of Oct. 20, 2007, after the girls were headed home from a party held the night before. McKewon, driving with a blood-alcohol content of three times the legal limit, veered over the center line on Foothill Road, crashing head-on into a Mercedes SUV, killing Laurel and seriously injuring the driver of the SUV. McKewon is currently serving a four-year sentence at Valley State Prison in Chowchilla, Calif., convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter and DUI causing great bodily injury. She is required to fulfill 85 percent of her sentence and could be released as early as 2011. She will have two strikes on her record.
Paul Stonebarger, 23, who faces charges of providing alcohol to minors at that party, has a court date Nov. 7 at the Pleasanton courthouse, where the Williamses said they plan to be in attendance. If convicted, Stonebarger could face up to a year in jail.
While they aren't filled with hate for McKewon, they are angry about what happened. Ken Williams said he doesn't believe McKewon was malicious in her actions, and realizes that any punishment to her doesn't bring their daughter back. He said he hopes that when McKewon is released, she will take ownership of what she did and make an example of herself, speaking to teens about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Ever since Laurel's death, life has taken on a new meaning for the pair, who now want to channel their energy into helping young people like their daughter succeed in life. They have, with the help of friends and family, started the Laurel Alice Williams Foundation, with the commitment to provide an annual scholarship, inform youths on the consequences of their actions, help parents keep the lines of communication with their teens open and discourage teens from drinking and driving.
The foundation, still in its early beginnings, was a goal just days after Laurel's death. However, the grieving process and McKewon's court proceedings pushed it off for a while. An executive board of seven members, consisting of many close friends of the Williamses, has been formed with the help of good friend Rich Garwood.
"We want to keep Laurel's memory alive," Kathy Pace Williams said. "She was a bright, spirited, young, beautiful, vivacious young woman."
The Laurel Alice Williams Scholarship will be awarded in May 2009 to a Las Positas Community College student who plans to go on to a state university that fall. It was the same community college that Laurel Williams attended, with plans to pursue a degree in psychology at San Diego State University. Applications and guidelines will be available in March.
It's those family members, friends and even those the couple had never met before the accident who have helped as a support system. The O'Connor family, who lost their son Kyle, 16, in a car accident in January 2007, has been in touch. Kyle's older brother shared a class at Foothill High School with Laurel and remembered her fondly even after moving away. Also, many other parents who lost children have reached out.
Another goal is to help teens get home safe after a night of drinking. The Williamses said they don't condone it, but they recognize that some teens are going to drink alcohol, and would like to provide a ride service for them similar to the established Safe Ride Organization.
The foundation will also look to give parents information and tips on how to be aware of their teen's activities.
"We're just trying to give parents the information and leave the parenting to them," Ken Williams said.
The Williamses have spoken at Foothill's most recent Every 15 Minutes anti-DUI program as well as Amador Valley High School's grad night. Taking the past year off from of work, Pace Williams, who lives in Pleasanton, said she plans to return to work at Safeway Corp. in the marketing department. Ken Williams is a self-employed insurance broker and coaches at California High in San Ramon, where he lives with his 9-year-old daughter.
The foundation has already raised $5,000, but hopes to raise much more for the nonprofit to make a difference for children and the community.
Anyone interested in making a tax-deductible donation to the foundation can make checks out to the Laurel Alice Williams Foundation, which can be sent in care of: Tri Valley Community Foundation, 5674 Stoneridge Drive, Pleasanton, CA 94588. For furthermore information about the foundation, watch for the upcoming website www.laurelalicefoundation.com, which is currently under construction. For information on scholarships, call Peggy Kennedy at 830-9940 or email firstname.lastname@example.org ♦