Loss motivates MADD advocate
Clutching a larger-than-life photograph of a teenage girl, Valoree Lalime describes what it was like for her on the previous Mother's Day, when she got flowers for her daughter, but not from her daughter. The flowers went on Nicole Lalime's grave.
On Dec. 16, 2008, Nicole, then 13, was killed by a drunken driver.
"She wasn't in a car, she wasn't at a party, she wasn't with a drunken driver. It was 3 in the afternoon on a school day. She wasn't doing anything where you might worry about something like this happening," said Lalime, a northwest Harris County resident. "Even teaching her to look both ways before crossing the street wouldn't have helped."
That's because Nicole had just stepped off the bus and was standing on a grassy area when John Jacob Winne, now 33, ran three stop signs, nipped the school bus and careened over Nicole, a Bleyl Middle School student, according to Harris County Precinct 4 deputy constables.
Winne's blood alcohol level was 0.19, more than twice the legal limit.
In June 2010, he pleaded guilty in 248th District Court of Harris County to intoxicated manslaughter with a motor vehicle and is serving 30 years in prison, where he's been ordered to keep and display a photo of his victim.
He also pleaded guilty to a charge of failure to stop and render assistance, for which he was sentenced to 10 years in prison to run concurrently with his other sentence.
"The only thing that has kept us going, that keeps us getting out of bed every morning, is to fight for Nicole," Lalime said, referring to her and her husband, "to find ways to reduce the chances of this happening to somebody else."
Lalime became involved with the Southeast Texas Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 15355 West Vantage Parkway in Houston.
Lalime has been lobbying to get the "Ignition Interlock Bill" passed in Texas. The proposed law would require ignition locks for first-time DWI offenders instead of only repeat offenders.
Only a handful of states have enacted it, but those states are already seeing a 30 percent decrease in drinking and driving fatalities, Lalime said.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, "Eleven states — Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oregon Utah, and Washington - have mandatory ignition interlock provisions for all offenses."
Lalime also volunteers for law enforcement agencies during "No Refusal" weekends, when it's mandatory for suspected drunken drivers to submit to an intoxication test, either by blood sample or breathalyzer.
She participates in the annual "Walk like MADD" event, sits on victim impact panels and speaks to students at high schools and juvenile detention centers around the Greater Houston area.
"My goal is to make them cry," Lalime said. "If they cry, I know I got through to them. It's thousands of dollars of therapy for me."
In April, Lalime received the Linda Kitazaki Award, named after a MADD Southeast Texas executive director who had served in the office for more than 25 years before her death in 2007.
"Valoree is one of the only volunteers you can ask for something, and she will never say no," said Julio Zaghi, MADD Southeast Houston manager of victim services. "Sometimes I have to actually tell her it's OK to say no. She is an exceptional volunteer. She deserves that award and more."
Lalime senses that Nicole is aware of her efforts.
"I think she is very happy I do this," Lalime said. "I think she would want to go with me."
When Lalime is missing Nicole, she and her husband, Bill, sit outside Nicole's bedroom window among statues of angels and squirrels, two of Nicole's favorite things.
And then there are the rainbows.
"When she was a little girl, she loved to draw rainbows," Nicole's father Bill Lalime said.
"She would get very excited when she saw one. We really recognized this when we saw some of her preschool and kindergarten papers, on which she would draw rainbows. She drew a lot of them."
Nicole even earned a nickname for this, "Lilly Rainbow."
In her honor, Bill wears rainbow suspenders wherever he goes, be it work, church or out to eat.
"She was just an innocent little girl," he said. "We don't understand why she had to go, but we feel she's with the Lord."
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