Created: 01/19/2014 11:03 PM KAALtv.com
By: Jenna Lohse
(ABC 6 News) -- Authorities made nearly 25,000 arrests for drunk driving in Minnesota, last year alone. Olmsted County is number seven on the state's list of areas with the most drunk driving related deaths. Those numbers have local law enforcement doing extra DWI patrols, but they're not the only ones working to keep drunk drivers off the roads. We talked with a local mom whose message can be seen by thousands driving into Rochester.
Driving along Highway 52, much of the sideline scenery consists of new products to try and must have food items. But going southbound near Pine Island, there's a message that is meant to resonate, a message of harsh reality.
"I’m trying to be a voice for Austin,” said Sandy Melville of Rochester. Sandy Melville lost her son Austin when he was hit by a drunk driver in downtown Rochester. Since that tragedy in 2010, sandy has made it her life mission to fight against drinking and driving.
"I want people to realize that this can happen to anybody at any time,” said Melville.
Her latest tactic to raise awareness sits in a field outside of Rochester. A billboard with the picture of her son from the day he graduated college, and the sad truth that he's no longer here.
"It's a message I have to send, yet it's very heart wrenching to drive by a billboard and see your sons photo up there because he was killed by a drunk driver,” said Melville.
Sandy is a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). She says the national organization recently rated states on their efforts to curb drunk driving. Minnesota only received a two out of five.
"We need to send a message, we need tougher penalties we need tougher sentencing, we need tougher laws,” said Melville.
While changing legislation is one battle to fight, the other is getting through to people. Sandy says this billboard is Austin reminding drivers of the fatal consequences that can come one bad decision.
"He'd want us to make a difference and trying to do that a lot of the times is the only thing that gets me from one day to the next,” said Melville.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving also gave Iowa a two out of five on their efforts against drunk driving. It made recommendations to both states to expand ignition interlock programs. The organization also suggests Minnesota allow sobriety checkpoints which are currently illegal in the state.