Ipswich: Instead of visiting Sarah’s art exhibition, I had to identify her body in the mortuary

A family whose lives were devastated by the reckless actions of a drink-driver are today backing The Evening Star’s Christmas anti-drink drive campaign.

Two years ago Barbara and David Lee’s 24-year-old daughter Sarah was tragically taken from them at the hands of a drink-driver.

The tragedy occurred when Miss Lee, who had just started her first teaching job at the Royal Hospital School, was on her way home to Colchester after setting up an art exhibition at the Holbrook school on December 5, 2009, with her partner when the accident happened in the village of Stutton, near Brantham.

Travelling at around 80mph the Audi driven by Matthew Anderson, 24, from Holbrook, who was nearly two-and-a-half times the legal alcohol limit, veered onto the wrong side of the road hitting Miss Lee’s Ford Focus. He was also killed.

Mr and Mrs Lee and their daughter Maddy, of Bedfield near Framlingham, are still trying to come to terms with their loss and have put their weight behind campaign to name and shame motorists who appear before Ipswich magistrates charged with drink-driving between December 1 and January 1.

Mr Lee said: “A young man’s excesses cost us a daughter that we loved and admired more than we can say.

“That evening, instead of visiting Sarah’s exhibition, we had to identify her body in the mortuary; two weeks later we had to hold a funeral for her; two years later we have not yet fully come to terms with the pain and the loss.”

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Last year 102 motorists out of 1,118 stopped by Suffolk Police were arrested for drink-driving, and in 2010 around 15 per cent of fatal road collisions in Suffolk had drink or drugs as a contributing factor.

Driving home the message not to drink before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle, Chief Inspector Adrian Dawson said: “Drink-driving can have tragic consequences and I would strongly urge people not to do it.

“By doing so you are not only risking your own life and the lives of others but you also risk being disqualified from driving, which can impact on jobs, relationships and finances.

“It is simply not worth it. Instead take the sensible option and if you drink any alcohol make sure you nominate a designated driver or find alternative transport.”

TWO years after his daughter was killed by a drink-driver, David Lee today tells the Evening Star why he is backing our annual Christmas Anti-Drink Drive Campaign, which aims to name and shame motorists exceeding the legal drink-drive limit.

In his own words he describes his family’s torment, urging others to take note of the damage that can be caused.

It was two years ago that our daughter, Sarah, at the age of 24, was killed by a drunk driver.

It was a beautiful sunny Saturday. Sarah and her partner, Richard, had been putting the finishing touches to an art exhibition at the Royal Hospital School in Holbrook, where Sarah was a teacher.

Shortly before 1pm they were heading back to their home in Colchester to walk their dog before returning to Holbrook for the opening of the exhibition in the evening.

They only made it as far as Stutton.

Matthew Anderson, a 24-year-old man from Holbrook, had been drinking heavily. He had been asked to leave a pub in Brantham, and eschewing offers of a lift or a taxi, sped off in his car towards Stutton.

When he hit Sarah’s car he was travelling at an estimated 75-80 mph and was on the wrong side of the road.

Blood tests revealed he had 212 milligrammes of alcohol per 100ml of blood – more than two and a half times the legal limit. Anderson was also killed in the collision.

The caller-display on my phone told me the in-coming call was from Sarah.

I answered expecting to hear her enthusing about the exhibition.

The voice on the phone was Richard’s: “I hate to have to tell you this, but I am afraid Sarah has died.”

At that moment everything around me seemed to freeze.

Unable to cope with the message, I regret I just put the phone down.

That evening, instead of visiting Sarah’s exhibition, we had to identify her body in the mortuary; two weeks later we had to hold a funeral for her; two years later we have not yet fully come to terms with the pain and the loss.

A young man’s excesses cost us a daughter that we loved and admired more than we can say.

What shocks me now is not just that someone can be so irresponsible as to drink heavily, then get into a car and drive at ludicrous speed along a relatively minor road, but that other people let this happen. There will have been people who knew that Anderson was a drink-driver.

I feel that, for many people, drinking and driving is not seen as a serious crime – in fact some people, even apparent pillars of society, are quite happy to boast about having got away with it.

I’d like to see a culture change regarding drink driving; I’d like people who commit this crime to feel more shame; and I think this will only come about if we, the law-abiding majority, tell them that we do not like what they do - that drink driving is just not acceptable.

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