Kansas mother says 'bad choices’ led to daughter’s death in drunken driving crash

Correction: Amanda Rice had not been drinking the night of the crash. An earlier version of this story was incorrect.

There’s no such thing as a drunken driving “accident.”

Not to state transportation officials. Not to law enforcement officers.

And not to Kelly Rice, whose 18-year-old daughter, Amanda Rice, died after she was gravely injured in a one-vehicle crash on May 30, 2008.

“My daughter is dead because of a series of bad choices,” Rice said Thursday at the launch of the national crackdown on drunken driving by law enforcement agencies leading up to Labor Day weekend.

Wichita police, Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputies and Kansas Highway Patrol troopers will all be working overtime between Friday and Sept. 2 to enforce the state’s impaired-driving laws. The enhanced enforcement program is dubbed “You drink. You drive. You lose.”

Rice lost her youngest daughter to drunken driving.

Amanda and her 19-year-old boyfriend went fishing after she got off work. He drank.

Rather than stay the night in Oaklawn, they chose to drive home. Amanda couldn’t drive a manual transmission, so she let her boyfriend drive.

“I never thought about teaching her not to ride with someone who had been drinking,” Rice said.

He was traveling an estimated 100 mph when he lost control of his pickup near Schulte not long after midnight. The pickup struck a power pole on the passenger’s door.

Rice said she got the phone call “no parent should ever get” sometime after 1 a.m. from a woman telling her she needed to get to Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis as soon as possible.

“I was shocked,” she said. “I couldn’t think straight.”

She hunted and hunted for her pants, only to discover “they were in my hand the whole time.”

When she reached the hospital, she said, “Time in the waiting room felt like an eternity.”

When she finally reached the intensive care unit, they handed her a box of tissues and held on to her arm – just in case she fainted from the jolt of seeing her daughter.

Part of Amanda’s head was shaved. She had broken ribs, a broken pelvis and other broken bones. Her lungs and other organs were badly injured as well.

Amanda never regained consciousness. She died nine days later.

“Everything we do is a choice,” Kelly Rice said. “This is an easy one: Don’t make the choice to drink and drive. It is a decision that affects so many people, not just yourself.”

Amanda was her youngest child, Rice said. She talked about becoming a hair stylist or maybe going to college once she finished online high school.

“Whoever said it gets easier with time lied,” Rice said. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her. There’s not a day where I don’t shed a tear.”

She said she will be shopping for Christmas presents, see something and think, “Amanda would love that.”

She’ll pick it up and carry it to the checkout line when it hits her: “She’s not here anymore.”

Wichita police typically arrest more people for driving under the influence in August than any other month, Lt. Brian White said.

Nationwide, drunken driving kills almost 10,000 people each year.

Rice said her family has a history of alcoholism, so she was strict about not allowing her children to drink. That is probably why Amanda hid her boyfriend’s drinking from them, she said.

He received only a few scratches in the crash that killed Amanda, Rice said. He spent four years in prison and hasn’t spoken to her family since the crash.

“He’s not a bad kid,” Rice said. “He just made a bad choice. He was 19. We all think we’re invincible” at that age.

Rice works with the DUI Victim Center of Kansas, talking to people convicted of driving drunk. It’s a way to bring something good out of something awful, she said.

“A lot of people come and apologize for the poor choices they made” after hearing her talk about losing Amanda, she said. “Some of them are hard-headed and say they did nothing wrong.”

She remains quiet when she hears that, Rice said. It’s not easy.

Most people who come in for the panel discussions at the DUI Victim Center, “They have a wall,” Rice said. “They almost look angry. They don’t want to be there.

“As we start talking, you see that (wall) break down. They get why they are there.”