January 24, 1999

Drunken driver a painful memory

Cynthia Taggart Staff writer
 

Rita McWilliams’ new daughter sleeps in her mother’s arms as if everything is right with the world.

Everything is right with 3-day-old Mykaela Christine, from her dark velvet hair to the silken soles of her unused feet.

“I was so worried,” Rita says, admiring her perfect baby. “Tests showed she was all right, but I couldn’t help worrying.”

People responded in record numbers three months ago after they read that a drunken driver sent Rita’s responsible young family into a tailspin.

Rita, 25, and her two sons were on their way home to Coeur d’Alene from Cottonwood Oct. 10 on U.S. Highway 95 when a drunken driver plowed into their car near Tensed.

She was six months pregnant. The crash knocked the dashboard onto Rita’s legs and wedged the steering wheel between her belly and her breasts. Her unborn baby was motionless.

Rita was battered and bruised. Twenty-two-month-old Hunter was unhurt. But 3-year-old Damian landed in the hospital for a week with a blood clot in his bruised intestine and a potentially fatal eye infection.

The crash totalled the family car. The drunken driver, Lance D. Falcon, 31, had no insurance.

The wreck wiped out the family savings. The financial crisis worsened when doctors advised Rita to leave her job sooner than she’d planned to protect her unborn baby.

Rita’s 21-year-old husband, Patrick, was working part time and finishing a two-year welding program at North Idaho College to secure his family’s future.

Completion offered him a chance at a career, but he contemplated quitting school to work more. His family needed money immediately.

Through it all, Rita was a model of composed efficiency - until she needed the food bank to feed her family. Then she wept.

Readers overwhelmed the McWilliams family with hundreds of dollars in donations, gift certificates, food and clothes. The nuns at St. Gertrude’s Monastery in Cottonwood lent Rita a car.

Rita saved most of the money to help her family survive during her maternity leave without Patrick quitting school.

Some of the money bought parts to repair an old car into which the whole family can fit. Some may help pay the $4,000 the family owes on Damian’s medical bills. Rita hopes her car insurance, which already paid $5,000 for Damian, will cover the rest.

“I have so many people to thank,” Rita says softly to her healthy new daughter.

Doctors gave Damian a clean bill of health last week. Tests showed his blood clot was gone.

Falcon pleaded guilty in Benewah County to enhanced drunken driving last month. His blood alcohol level was three times above the legal limit.

It wasn’t Falcon’s first drunken driving offense, so he faces from 30 days to five years in jail, a fine of up to $5,000 and suspension of his driver’s license for one to five years after he leaves jail. He’ll be sentenced Feb. 12.


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