Once a year for three decades those who have lost children, parents, siblings and friends to drunk or drugged drivers have come to the Moncks Corner A.M.E church to tell deeply personal and painful stories of their loss. The event held on the evening of Dec. 17 was no different.
Lissah Hagberg lost her daughter, Challissah Mills on Oct. 9, 2017. Mills was 26 years old at the time and was struck by, now, convicted drunken driver, Johnathon Brown. It was determined he was driving 101 mph and hit Mills as she turning into a driveway along Highway 57 in Dillon.
“He did not hit the break and hit the side of her Volvo station wagon, which is a tank, right where she was.” Hagberg said.
At the ceremony sponsored by the Berkeley County Prevention Board and the Ernest E. Kennedy Center, Mills’ mother stood at the podium in front law enforcement and those like her, who are dealing with a senseless loss. Photos of her daughter leaned against a railing behind her.
“That was her goal in the family, she was the one that would give up to make sure everyone else was happy,” said Hagberg. “She was always just out there trying to make other people happy.”
Hagberg began by talking about her daughter, her selflessness and what she meant to those who lost her.
“Everything in our life now is defined before that and after that,” said Hagberg. “She was my middle child, a sister to her sisters and a sister to her brother and a daughter.”
Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says in 2018 South Carolina had 291 drunk driving deaths. That number is the tenth most in the nation. In that same year 28 percent of all traffic fatalities were caused by drunk driving.
In 2017 Hagberg and her family became another family impacted by such painful statistics. She said it was a typical day — like any other Monday.
“She was in Florence for an appointment. I saw her in the parking lot and talked to her for a few minutes. I didn’t know I was never going to see her again,” she said. Later that evening her daughter was killed in the crash.
Statistics compiled by the Kennedy Center show that two-in-three people will be impacted by a drunk driving crash in their lifetime.
“My only hope is that somehow her story is going to keep somebody else from either making that choice, letting someone else make that choice, so one more family doesn’t have to sit here next year,’ Hagberg said.
Johnathon Brown, of Dillon, was convicted of felony DUI in 2018. He was 25-years-old when he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He had a blood alcohol level of .12. The legal limit in South Carolina is .08.
So far in 2019 there have been 10 confirmed impaired driving deaths in Berkeley County. Incidents that continue to confound local law enforcement and members of the Berkeley County Prevention Board.
“In all the deaths the coroner’s office is involved in, driving under the influence is the most avoidable,” said Berkeley County Coroner George Oliver. “Nobody takes time to think how this could affect someone else or even yourself by doing that—putting someone else in danger for a selfish reason.”