We don’t always think about the choices we make while we are making them. But Joshua Jahn of Dwight asked, “What if we did?”
Ten years ago, on Nov. 6, 2008, Jahn’s life was forever changed because of the choices of a woman he had never before met. That night, at 8:06 p.m. at Route 47 and Gardner Road, Jahn’s wife, Amanda, and his two children, Ryan, 3, and Kaitlyn, 11 months, were killed when a drunken driver passed through a stop sign traveling at almost 70 mph.
“They didn’t have a choice,” Jahn said.
In the years since, Jahn has been a public speaker, working with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the California Highway Patrol, while he lived in California, to speak at any event. He also worked to tell his story with victim impact panels – sessions where people convicted of a driving under the influence charge hear the stories of those whose lives a drunken driver has affected.
Jahn told his story Friday night in front of about 150 people in the newly renovated third-floor courtroom at the Grundy County Courthouse, as part of the Christmas Toy Drive and Symposium in Memory of DUI victims Mandy, Ryan and Kaitlyn Jahn. He played a video, beginning with a recording of radio traffic from that night, when at 8:06 p.m. a call came in for a two-vehicle collision. Family photos of happy times, of newborn children and the family at Amanda’s sister’s wedding five days before the crash were interspersed with video of emergency vehicles with flashing lights, wrecked cars on the side of the road and a funeral with three caskets at the front of a church.
Jahn, a member of the Dwight Fire Department then, described how he parked his car at the same stop sign Ann Marie Getz missed that led to her crashing into the Jahns’ vehicle, while her blood alcohol level was 0.18, more than twice the legal limit. He heard the glass under his feet as he walked to the ambulance and saw his son on the gurney. After he came home, he found his son’s fingerprints on the glass of the window where he used to pound to get his dad’s attention as he walked to the door and shoes that belonged to his daughter.
Jahn said he could have just not talked about it, and who would blame him? Instead, he’ll talk to anyone who will listen because, he said, it’s about making choices, and, if people hear his story, they might make the right choices.
“One of the things that kept me sane was the idea that someone needed me,” Jahn said.
Through his work, he said, his family did not die in vain.
“They represent something now,” he said.
In 2011, Jahn married a friend of his from childhood, Timberlie, and moved to California. They’ve since had a son, Leo, who is now 6 years old. This summer, he moved back to Dwight with Timberlie and Leo. He said Friday’s event was a homecoming, and even when he moved to Los Angeles the plan was to always return. People who came to the event were asked to bring a toy to donate to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy County.
Judge Sheldon Sobol, who prosecuted Getz as Grundy County state’s attorney, also spoke at the symposium, along with a representative for the Illinois chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Jahn said he will continue to speak to groups, especially young people, because reaching out at a young age can help others make the right choices their entire lives.
“Sometimes hearing that hard message from a family member who was impacted is what they need,” he said. “The second that kicks in, life-changing decisions can be made.”