As Tenn. cracks down on drugged driving, parents who lost son in crash warn of dangers

Special Reports

For Sondra and Norbert Braunwalder, April 10, 2014, is a day they wish they could forget.  

“I thought to myself, ‘he can’t be dead, not possible,'” said Norbert. 

The couple’s 13-year-old Clifton was changing a flat tire for his mother on Interstate 24 in Smyrna when a driver veered across traffic, hitting and killing their son.   

“I just remember hearing the screech,” Sondra said. “I don’t remember anything else.” 

“The impact and momentum just threw him about 30 feet away,” Norbert said.  

MORE: Rutherford Co. memorial sign remembers teen killed on I-24

Police said the driver, Tina Wilson, who fled the scene, was under the influence of Xanax, amphetamines, and marijuana 

“Drugged driving is a dangerous thing,” Sondra said. “Just because it’s a prescription doesn’t mean that you’re ok.” 

Tony Burnett with Tennessee Highway Safety Office told News 2 drugged driving has caused more deadly crashes than alcohol within the past three years. 

“It really impairs a person’s ability to operate a vehicle,” said Burnett, a drug recognition expert with THSO.  

Last year, 242 people were killed by drug-impaired drivers in the state compared to about 199 killed by drunk drivers that same year.  

Burnett said the biggest culprits are prescription pills like Xanax and amphetamines which are often abused.  

“Prescribed drugs seem to be more of a problem today than illegal drugs,” Burnett said.  

Drugged driving has become such a big problem and more officers are now being trained to become drug recognition experts, according to Burnett.  

“It has brought us to a point of having to step up our game to address that problem,” he said. 

Burnett said in the past three years, more than 900 officers have been trained to recognize the signs of drug impairment. 

“We want to make sure we get impaired drivers off the road,” he said.  

And, so do parents like Sondra and Norbert who urge people on prescription pills that cause drowsiness to think twice before getting behind the wheel.  

“Read the backs of the labels,” Norbert said. “Understand what you’re taking and what the side effects are.” 

The Braunwalder family speaks out several times a year at different events, educating the public on the dangers of drugged driving. 

Wilson pled guilty to vehicular homicide by intoxication, reckless aggravated assault, and leaving the scene of a fatal accident.  

She was sentenced to 30 years.  

Click here to read more stories from our “Dangerous Drivers” special. 

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