COLUMBUS, Ohio — You may think it can’t happen to you but no one is immune to the consequences or dangers of drunk driving, and for one family they've seen the dangers and the tragedy up close, as both victim and driver.
Amy Schwieterman reached out to ABC 6 On Your Side after seeing a February story about Matthew Cordle, who is serving time in prison for killing a man while driving drunk. Schwieterman’s family has been impacted by drunk driving three times in twelve years. While her past isn’t easy to talk about she says her message is what matters more.
More than 22 years ago, Schwieterman was involved in a head-on crash caused by drunk driving. “That night was just the beginning of it,” said Schwieterman. “22 years later and I still see those headlights."
Schwieterman says a drunk driver crossed into her path while she drove friends home from a party. She shared images from the crash that only speak to the physical damage. “I had half of my face back here and yeah I’ll never forget that,” said Schwieterman. Emotional trauma has consumed her life. Schwieterman says she leaned heavily on the bottle and started using marijuana. Eight years later, she ended up in handcuffs.
“I left a bar just as drunk as I could be I’m sure. I didn’t turn my headlights on and that’s why they pulled me over and thank God they did,” said Schwieterman.
But the alcohol and self-loathing kept flowing. “I was really ashamed because something that hurt me so badly I could have done to somebody else,” said Schwieterman.
When asked what stopped her from drinking, she paused and broke down before answering. In the midst of her own life struggle, a new and more known chapter began. "On March 15th, 2008, my little brother Nicholas was involved in an accident in the same county we were raised in. And he was drunk, and he was high and four people died,” said Schwieterman.
Nicholas Schwieterman is now an inmate at Grafton Correctional. He’s serving 24 years, six for each of the four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the drunk-driving crash. “I would say 100% what happened that night was my own decision,” said Nicholas Schwieterman.
Eleven years ago, Nicholas says he returned to his hometown in Mercer county and bar-hopped into the early morning hours with friends after a successful job interview in Columbus. “In my mind, I was going to have kind of one last hoorah,” said Nicholas Schwieterman. It was the last night alive for four young men Nicholas knew from school. Their names and pictures sit where Nicholas ran a stop sign while driving a friend home and collided with their car.
“I thought maybe I just wrecked my car and that I was facing a DUI,” said Nicholas Schwieterman.
Court records show Nicholas and his passenger both initially denied being the driver. Deputies met him at the hospital where Nicholas admitted he was behind the wheel. “They said Mr. Schwieterman, you’re not going anywhere, you killed four f’ing people and I was like 'what?' I was in a frantic shock,” said Schwieterman.
His blood alcohol content measured more than one and a half times the legal limit. The Mercer county prosecutor says Schwieterman also had an extremely high amount of cocaine in his system.
“Looking back it wouldn’t have mattered what four names they gave me but I do think it made it more difficult that I knew them all personally,” said Nicholas Schwieterman. Nicholas believes his story will one day resonate with teens and adults. He says he started drinking and using when he hit puberty.
“Just when you think it can’t happen it will happen to you and there’s no redos in my situation there’s absolutely no way I can make this right,” he said.
Nicholas says what he can do now is find positive ways to move forward. In prison, he trains service dogs for children with disabilities, something he says is a small but is a step he can make. He knows his sister, Amy, battled her own demons after that March 2008 tragedy. “She felt somewhat to blame for the path I went down and totally is not the case at all. I made my choices because I wanted to fit in,” Schwieterman said.
Amy isn’t proud of her past. “And when you asked me if that stopped me it didn’t. I actually drank about a handful of times after his accident,” said Amy Schwieterman.
She found courage to speak publicly after hearing Matthew Cordle recount how actions similar to her brothers landed him in prison. Amy had her last drink a year after her brother’s crash. She is 10 years sober and, like her brother, yearning for a chance to change a life. “I don’t want to hurt them anymore. I don’t want to hurt them by talking to you but I feel like there’s a greater good,” said Amy Schwieterman.
Amy hopes to one day get together with the non-profit started by Matthew Cordle called Save Your Victim which helps people find safe rides home.
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Source: Family impacted by drunk driving 3 times tells their story with hope it could help others
Copyright © 2019, abc6onyourside.com / Tara Morgan
Originally posted May 9, 2019