Youngsters involved in the Family Unity Night in the Neighborhood program may be too young to drive or drink.
But, if Franz Kegel has his way, they’ll think twice about doing so once they get their driver’s license and become of legal age to drink alcohol.
“But do yourself a favor – Stay away from alcohol. It’s a poison,” he said on Friday night during the weekly gathering of around 100 kids at the Southside Church.
Franz is a member of the San Joaquin County chapter of Mothers’ Against Drunk Driving. His life was forever changed when his two daughters, Leisel, 16, and Elke, 15, were killed by a drunken driver.
That was June 1985. Franz and his wife, Bernette, attended a wedding in Palo Alto while their five children remained at their Stockton home.
“We trusted our kids,” he said. “Liesel was a good driver.”
On that night, she drove Elke and her friend, Brad Shingler, to a dance in Lodi. But on their way, the two girls were killed instantly on Thornton Road when a car driven by Mario Franco crashed head-on into their Volkswagen Beetle.
Franco, who, according to Kegel, was a dairy farmer with a wife and kids, and had been at the Stockton Ballroom for a special function. He tried to drive himself home.
“Mario was really good guy. But he made a bad decision,” Franz Kegel said.
Franco died the next day. Shingler, who was in a coma for three weeks, lived but took years for him to recover from injuries and trauma of that tragic event.
Franz Kegel still deals with the painful losses of his two daughters. He serves as support for families who have suffered from similar ordeals.
“They need someone who knows what they’re going through,” said Kegel, who shared stories of other alcohol-related deaths including that of Christina Hoffman, 18, of Manteca.
She was killed in December 1997 when a drunk driver plowed into her car on southbound Highway 99 near the Delicato Winery, he said.
A grim reminder, MADD brought out the wreckage of a Dodge van that once belonged to a Yolo County man who died after crashing the vehicle into a tree. “The man was drunk and also had marijuana in system,” Kegel said.
The MADD trailer with the wreckage was parked in the alley way adjacent to the Southside Christian Church, home of the FUN Club.
According to Pastor Quincyetta McClain, Kegel has spoken to youngsters of the program for the past four years.
“He’ll help save our lives,” she said.