DWI Memorial aspires to stop senseless death
By Craig Springer
Standing at the gate of the New Mexico National DWI Victims’ Memorial of Perpetual Tears, the day comes alive in the rapidly changing morning light. A burrowing owl silently slices through the air just above the ground. A cottontail pauses to nibble on a small stand of wild grass that stabs through the soil, the rabbit’s shadow dwarfed by that of a gray metallic “tombstone,” cut with an unusual shape in one corner.
This four-acre plot on the prairie just outside Moriarty is a paradox. All around there is life, but the place memorializes those who died so unnecessarily at the hands of drunk drivers.
It is the only memorial in the nation to recognize these fallen victims. They range from infants to the elderly, the well-to-do to common folk. Some of their stories have been sensationalized in the media, while others have died unsung except to friends, family, and other loved ones. The memorial was established to honor everyone who has ever felt a similar loss, but its genesis is deep personal sorrow and pain—the kind that can only come from a mother who has lost a child.
Sonja Britton is that mother. A resident of Moriarty since age three, Britton operated a beauty shop and owns a self-storage facility. She is also an accomplished painter. She and her husband, Jerry, raised two children in this small tight-knit community. When one of those children, Monty “Butch” Britton, died at the hands of a drunk driver in Colorado at the age of 30, the vacancy in her family motivated Britton to action.
“After my son died, I learned that a lot money is spent in the judiciary for drunken driving,” she says. “But there was nothing for the victims, no way for them to remember those who died, no place that said ‘look, here is what we lost.’”
That place now exists. Britton took two years of mourning and anger and turned it into positive energy, establishing a non-profit organization to raise money to build an official memorial to those killed by drunk drivers.
The donations poured in, including a prime piece of commercial property gifted by the Anaya family of Moriarty. The City of Albuquerque donated $50,000, the town of Moriarty kicked in $92,000, and the New Mexico State Legislature appropriated $1 million. Survivors of the Gonzales family of Las Vegas, NM donated almost $56,000.
The site became national in scope in 2007 when Britton decided the memorial should honor DWI deaths nationwide. Then-congressman Tom Udall authored a resolution, co-sponsored by Martin Heinrich, to lend congressional weight to the national status. Sadly, the resolution never made it out of committee. That didn’t dissuade Britton. With or without Congressional backing, anyone living anywhere in the United States can apply to memorialize loved ones at the monument.
Sorrow and loss drives Sonja forward, but she also cites her father’s sage advice as inspiration. “’If you stop growing,’ he would say, ‘you start dying. And if you stop wanting you stop growing.’” She pauses. “I’m not going to stop wanting.”
Britton conceived the design of the memorial, which is made up of a series of tombstones—each representing a member of the fallen—crafted from steel meant to symbolize the metal chrome of a car’s bumper. Instead of the usual symmetrical dome or square, the top of each tombstone is cut out at one side to mimic the shape of a teardrop. Three steel tubes of broken glass, each with the same teardrop cutout, are dedicated to unknown victims. A red brick wall, the color of the ribbons worn by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, embraces the field of tombstones. The visitor’s center features furniture carved from inmates of the penitentiary near Las Cruces, some of whom have been convicted of DWI.
The field of tombstones is not full—nor is memorializing Britton’s only goal. “I dream big,” she says. “We want this to be a national resource—a center for unifying the public in an attempt to deter and stop DWI.”
Visitors are welcome from 9:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays. The memorial is located on W. Abrahames Road, west of Howard Cavasos Blvd. on the north side of I-40. For more information, log onto dwimemorialofperpetualtears.org.
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