The following is from the March 12, 2008, online edition of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. The story features SMU student Ryan Pitts.
Over spring break, 21-year-old Ryan Pitts is skiing in Utah. Ryan, a junior at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, is determined to make the most of the trip, despite the foot that was broken last week.
Determination is nothing new to this student leader. He has overcome significant learning disabilities in his quest for a political science and psychology degree. Now he's also focused on honoring his mother.
As a high school senior, Ryan was asked to give a speech about his hero. His choice was easy – his mom. Far from easy, however, was grappling with her death a week later. On a Friday night in June 2004, a drunk driver slammed into the family car at 90 mph. The 32-year-old offender had been drinking for eight hours prior to the crash and had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .28. The legal limit is .08.
Ryan was driving the car when it was hit. He was thrown from the car. His mother died on that Sunday surrounded by her husband, Jim, their two daughters and Ryan.
Evelyn Eastham Pitts was a third-generation First Lady of Waxahachie, Texas. Ryan's dad has been a member of the Texas House of Representatives for 18 years. The Pitts met as students at SMU and were married for 33 years at the time of the crash.
As a member of SMU's Student Senate, Ryan was involved in the recent passage of two pieces of legislation favoring medical amnesty and the Good Samaritan Law. Both are up for consideration by the SMU Alcohol and Drug Prevention Task Force. He's in a challenging position as a college student, surrounded by a culture of underage drinking, binge drinking and drinking and driving.
Does Ryan think the drinking age should remain 21, or should it be lowered to 18? He unequivocally says, "Twenty-one. If we lower the drinking age to 18, seniors in high school will have access to alcohol, and they'll be taking middle schoolers to parties. It'll have a domino effect."
As devastating as his mother's death is for Ryan, he says, "It's made me much more independent, and it's brought me much closer to my dad. Even though he's in Austin a lot, we've developed a much closer relationship."
As a campus leader, Ryan was recently responsible for bringing Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to SMU. He knows his mother would be proud. Ryan says he misses hearing, "Good job!" from his mom. "I try to do what Mom would want," Ryan says. "I know she's watching me all the time, and if I don't, she'll let me know. She's still here. Everything is going to be OK."
# # #