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(Enlarge) Phil and Cindy Mullikin of Manchester have turned the death of their daughter Catherine, shown in a photo from 12 years ago, into a crusade to curb drunken driving. Last year the couple founded Catherine’s Cause, which provides speakers for educational purposes to warn of the dangers of drinking and driving. ((Photo by Phil Grout))

Parties and socializing are as much a part of the holiday season as Santa and shopping.

Unfortunately, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows a higher death toll from drunken driving is also a part of the holiday season.

From 2001 to 2005, an average of 36 fatalities occurred every day on America's roadways as a result of crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver, according to the NHTSA.

But that number increases to 45 per day during Christmas -- and jumps to 54 per day at New Year's.

Manchester residents Phil and Cindy Mullikin know those numbers all too well, and also know the horrific impact of drunken driving.

The day after Thanksgiving 1998, their daughter, Catherine, 20, was a passenger in a car that was hit by a drunken driver. Catherine died as a result of the accident.

Catherine was a 1996 graduate of North Carroll High School and was attending Carroll Community College. She wanted to be an elementary education teacher, according to her mom.

She was also involved in Sea Scouts, an educational boating-oriented program, where she advocated community service efforts. After her death, that organization created the Catherine A. Mullikin Sea Scout Volunteer of the Year Award in her name.

Phil Mullikin said the man who hit his daughter had been partying the day after Thanksgiving, and his alcohol level was found to be three times the legal limit.

After the shock, tears and sense of loss that the Mullikins felt at their daughter's death, their thoughts turned to activism to help spread the word about the danger -- and the victims -- of drunken driving.

"We aren't ready to give up the fight," said Cindy Mullikin. "If we can save one parent from going through what we've been through the past 10 years, then we've been successful."

The couple partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for several years, but last year decided to form their own nonprofit -- Catherine's Cause.

"We started out as volunteers for MADD, but then they left the county," said Phil Mullikin. "We felt there needed to be an organization in Carroll County dedicated to drunk driving awareness."

Catherine's Cause is volunteer driven, with a core of five people who spend much of their time speaking before local organizations about the tragedy that comes from the mix of drinking and driving.

The group raises a modest amount of funding -- to date, funds have gone toward advertising and creating posters and materials.

"We have five volunteers who never miss a beat. We hold court-ordered lectures for people convicted of drunk driving, we speak to students at local colleges, give lectures ... for kids who are already in trouble, and we speak to students enrolled in driver's education courses," Phil said.

Many lectures given by Catherine's Cause offer insights into drunken driving from speakers with personal experience.

There's the ex-Howard County cop who talks about how alcohol impairs the body; the female paramedic who was hit by a drunken driver years ago; and the Westminster City police officer who lost a sibling to a drunken driver.

The Mullikins speak at these events also, to impress upon thier audiences the danger of drunken driving -- and to share the story of their daughter.

Cautionary tale

Earlier this month, Catherine's Cause hosted a "Remembrance Ceremony" in Westminster for all those killed on Carroll County roads in the past year -- even those that didn't involve alcohol. Phil said there have been 19 fatalities on Carroll roads this past year.

About 50 people attended the ceremony, held at the Carroll County Non-Profit Center.

It was a moving experience for those who had lost loved ones, of course, but also for others affected by these tragedies as well.

"Almost all of the police departments in the county were present," Phil said. "We light a candle for each person who was killed in the past year, and a lot of times, the cops who were involved with investigating the crash will light the candles."

There's no coincidence that the ceremony occurred around the holidays. Besides being near the anniversary of Catherine Mullikin's death, it's also a key time to remind residents to be careful ... and sober.

The problem is an uphill battle. The Mullikins say many people simply don't understand how prevalent the problem is.

"Drunk driving hasn't stopped or slowed down," said Cindy. "There's still a fight to fight."

"We do court-ordered lectures every other month. We have close to 100 people in those sessions -- that's 100 people who have been convicted of drunk driving (in a 60-day period) in Carroll County," added Phil.

The people in those classes have already made one poor choice, but the Mullikins and their fellow volunteers get more encouraging responses when they have a chance to speak to teens in driver education classes -- before they make the choice to drink and get behind the wheel.

"I know we have an effect (in driver's education classes). I don't know how much we prevent, but I know we are getting through to the kids," Phil said.

"We don't go in there seeking sympathy for ourselves," he said, "Rather, we tell them how important they are to their parents.

"We can tell them what it's like as a parent to lose a child," he added. "Our focus is to prevent parents from going through what Cindy and I have gone through."

For more information on Catherine's Cause, visit the Web site at www.catherinescause.com or e-mail info@catherinescause.com. The mailing address is Carroll Nonprofit Center, c/o Catherine's Cause, Suite 203, 255 Clifton Blvd., Westminster, MD 21157.


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