Triumph in the Midst of Tragedy
10/24/2018
Two pieces of legislation that are about to become law can be attributed to the hard work and dedication of a pair of York County women I am proud to call constituents and friends. Their passion is the reason I nominated them for a “Year of the Woman” award at a September state Capitol reception. Missy Sweitzer and Elaine Miller have worked tirelessly to turn tragedy into triumph and make our community and Commonwealth a better, safer place to live.

These women are tied together by a common bond – impaired driving and organ donation. Pennsylvania averages more than 12,000 DUI crashes each year. Injuries occur in approximately 9,000 of them, and more than 300 result in death. Among Pennsylvania’s six geographical regions, ours reports the highest number of DUI arrests per year (more than 8,000).

The way we deal with those statistics is nothing to be proud of. We are the 5th-most lenient state for criminal DUI penalties, the most forgiving state when it comes to driving-under-suspension penalties, and one of only four states that does not classify repeat DUI offenses as a felony, regardless of the offenders’ history.

Another area in which we could do much better is organ donation. In 1994, Pennsylvania passed landmark legislation that promoted advocacy and created a set of best practices. We established a benchmark for the country, only to see other states pass us by in rates of organ donation.

Enter Missy Sweitzer and Elaine Miller. I’ve known Missy for many years. On Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2008, our families were together before the Thanksgiving holiday weekend enjoying watching our daughters play indoor soccer. Little did we know amidst the joy of soccer victory and the impending holiday that Missy and her husband Mark’s 20-year-old son, Zac, would be forced off Interstate 83 by an underage drunk, drugged driver just hours later. He died the following day at York Hospital. Amid their grief, the Sweitzer’s made the decision to donate Zac’s organs. His liver, kidneys, lungs and pancreas are helping others overcome medical problems, as are his donations of bone, tissue, skin and corneas. The Sweitzer’s have also heard Zac’s heart beating in the chest of a middle-aged man. Missy’s mission continues as a traffic safety specialist with York County's Center for Traffic Safety, focusing on reducing impaired driving.

Missy says her son “had a servant’s heart. He loved helping people and serving people.” Zac Sweitzer seemed destined to emulate Elaine Miller’s son, Rodney.

I met Elaine and her husband, Paul, after Rodney, a 29-year public servant and Loganville fire chief, was killed by a drunk driver on April 27, 2013, while directing traffic at an accident scene that also involved a drunk driver. Rodney was registered as an organ and tissue donor, and he lives on in the bodies of those who received his organs. Elaine and Paul’s work continues as founding members of the Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Driving.

Before the September ceremony, Missy or Elaine were already frequent visitors to the Capitol, lobbying for legislation that addresses organ donation and impaired driving. I am proud to have joined with them in keeping both issues in front of my colleagues in the General Assembly.

On Wednesday, Oct. 10, the House unanimously passed Senate Bill 180, which updates Pennsylvania’s 24-year-old Donate Life PA Act. More than 8,000 Pennsylvanians are currently waiting for a life-changing - often life-saving - organ transplant. That number should be easy to reduce, and this legislation becoming law will jump start that process.
For the Miller’s and Sweitzer’s, passage of Senate Bill 961 by both chambers of the General Assembly one week later was an even bigger accomplishment. It increases penalties for anyone convicted of vehicular homicide while DUI who also had prior DUI offenses. Most prominently, the legislation establishes the state's first felony offense of driving under the influence. It also creates more severe penalties, including longer mandatory jail time, for unintentionally causing the death of another person because of a repeat DUI violation.
Two years ago, I was one of the few legislators to take part in the York Daily Record’s DUI town hall at the Goodwill Fire Company in Jacobus. We discussed legislative fixes to the problem, but those in attendance agreed impaired driving is a problem that will be difficult, if not impossible, to solve legislatively. Public advocacy and involvement is needed, and that’s where Missy Sweitzer and Elaine Miller come in.

Writer and theologian C.S. Lewis said, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” That quote fits both Missy and Elaine to a tee. Before losing their loved ones, both incredible women surely saw themselves as your average, everyday wives and mothers, not advocates. The tragedies that draw them together are also the source of their strength to make sure no other family feels the pain and loss they have experienced. Such a loss is something that no one should have to endure. Such a passion is something everyone should feel. Zac Sweitzer and Rodney Miller would undoubtedly be proud.

Representative Kristin Phillips-Hill
93rd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Scott Little
717.260.6137
slittle@pahousegop.com  
RepKristin.com / Facebook.com/RepKristin
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