The following letter was written by Chris and Susan Demko, the parents of 18-year-old Lampeter-Strasburg High School graduate Meredith Demko, who was killed in a head-on crash earlier this month. The driver accused of causing the crash, Thomas Gallagher Jr., a repeat DUI offender, has been charged with with being drunk and under the influence of heroin at the time.
On July 8, 2014, we lost our beautiful 18-year-old daughter, Meredith, in a tragic auto accident involving another vehicle operated by an individual who allegedly was drug-and alcohol-impaired and driving with a suspended license.
Meredith was our youngest daughter, our “baby’’ as her brother and sister would joke, who had just graduated from high school and was looking forward to attending college in August.
As a result of this terrible accident and community reaction, we wanted to express our gratitude and thoughts to the community.
First, we wish to thank our Lancaster community. The outpouring of support from our friends, neighbors, co-workers, employers, Lampeter-Strasburg teachers, local businesses and the greater Lancaster community has been inspiring.
We have been deeply touched by the words and deeds of so many people, including many we have never met or know. Most importantly, we would like to thank the beautiful friends of Meredith, who have provided us with support and fond memories of our daughter, while struggling through their own grief.
The contributions for the Meredith Leigh Demko Diversity Scholarship have been heartening; the generosity of the community will help enable us to award scholarships to students who accept and respect others different than themselves, as Meredith had done throughout her life.
We also would like to thank the West Lampeter Police Department, the Willow Street and Lampeter Fire Departments, Susquehanna Valley EMS and Lancaster General Hospital for their professionalism and compassion while completing their duties.
While trying to understand this tragedy, we realized the need to improve our laws with the goal of preventing drunken driving. In reading various news articles over this past week, we have been shocked by the frequency of fatal accidents in Lancaster County involving drunken drivers with prior DUI convictions.
The individual involved with our daughter's death was allegedly driving on a suspended license and repeatedly drove while impaired, disregarding the law without concern for others. Regardless of one's opinion on drug/alcohol abuse and addiction, we as a community cannot continue to assume that individuals with DUI convictions, and in many cases suspended licenses, will obey the law. It is important that we craft effective laws that will focus on preventing those with prior DUI convictions from driving while impaired.
Our community has repeatedly shown it is second to none in its compassion and support when tragedy strikes. We would ask each of you as a member of our community to help prevent future tragedies like ours by contacting state Sen. Mike Brubaker and state Sen. Lloyd K. Smucker as well as your state representative and request that they introduce or support effective legislation that will address this serious problem with the goal of stopping these senseless and endless deaths.
There is a pending bill that would be an excellent first step. State Sen. John Rafferty has introduced Senate Bill 1036, which would require ignition interlocks for convicted drunken drivers.
The use of this technology in other states has proven to be effective in reducing repeat incidences of drunken driving by 67 percent when its use is required by law. This bill is being considered this fall and, if passed, will save many innocent lives in the years ahead.
Again, we thank the community for its overwhelming support and ask that you let your state legislators know that the existing laws related to drunken drivers are not effective and they need to take the lead on preventing future tragedies.