By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – Officials, friends and family gathered Dec. 20 to remember the loss of the Abbas family by a drunken driver, which inspired the recent passage of the HALT Drunk Driving Act.
The event, held at Fire Station 1 on Greenfield Road, recognized the passage of HALT — Honoring Abbas Family Legacy to Terminate Drunk Driving Act — which recently passed as part of a larger federal infrastructure bill. It will require cars to have drunk driving detection systems by the 2026 model year.
The Abbas family of Northville, who had close ties to the Dearborn community, died when struck by a wrong-way drunken driver Jan. 6, 2019, on I-75 in Lexington, Ky., while the family was returning to Michigan from a Florida vacation.
The drunken driver, who was also killed, had a blood alcohol content of nearly four times the 0.08 limit for legally drunk in Kentucky.
Killed in the crash were Issam Abbas, 42; Dr. Rima Abbas, 38; Ali, 13; Isabella, 12; and Giselle, 7.
Speaking at the event were U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-12th District), Rana Abbas-Taylor, sister of Dr. Rima Abbas, Dearborn Fire Chief Joseph Murray, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-13th District), U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-11th District), and Wayne County Undersheriff Mike Jaafar.
Allison LaPlatt, a volunteer resource specialist with Mothers Against Drunk Driving of Michigan, said it is important to always drive sober, noting that drunken driving crashes are 100 percent preventable.
“If everybody chose a sober designated driver, we could end impaired driving overnight, and that’s MADD’s biggest objective,” she said. “We want to make sure that whether your plans this holiday season include alcohol or marijuana, or any other type of impairing substance, you make a plan before you use that substance, before you go out, on how you are going to get home safely by using a sober designated driver.”
Dingell said the deaths of the Abbas family must not be in vain.
“We are here to talk about don’t drink and drive, and to really get people to think twice,” she said. “We are here today because we can put an end to this, and we can put an end to the pain and the suffering.”
Rana Abbas-Taylor, sister of the late Dr. Rima Abbas, thanked Dingell for her commitment to passing the HALT Drunk Driving Act.
“It changes everything for so many of us and for so many people, many of whom will never even understand how significant this rule-making is,” she said. “This is a very difficult time of year for us. Christmas was a big holiday for Rima, Issam and the kids, and Tom and I.”
Abbas-Taylor spoke of holiday traditions they had enjoyed as an extended family.
“Because this is such a high-profile tragedy, I know more folks know what happened,” she said. “Five beautiful people were killed – three of them children – on their way home from vacation by a wrong-way drunk driver.”
Abbas-Taylor said unless one is intimately connected to a drunk driving tragedy, it is difficult to understand the impact it has on the surviving family members.
“It alters you when you lose somebody so tragically, and in such a devastating way,” she said. “And the ripple effect is endless.”
Abbas-Taylor said it is easy to think that a tragedy like this won’t happen to us, but we will all be touched by something like this at some point in our lives.
“We want to make sure that never happens again,” she said. “As we enter the season of families and togetherness, we must not take for granted what that really means, and continue to hold close those we love, and practice what we all know we ought to be doing.”
Murray said that as a firefighter for more than 20 years, he knows all too well the devastation that is caused by drunken driving.
“My team and I will respond to hundreds of calls a year of accidents that were caused by drunk driving,” he said, “and, although these are the jobs that we all signed up for, it does have an emotional and psychological impact, and firefighters that have to respond to these calls, to a completely innocent person that’s been injured or killed in a motor vehicle collision because of drunk drivers.”
Murray said with almost 10,000 deaths a year, this translates to about 30 deaths per day in the United States due to completely avoidable collisions.
“While the advanced alcohol detection devices will undoubtedly save thousands of lives in the future, we want to make sure that all our residents in Dearborn and throughout the state and the nation are safe and responsible this holiday season, and take steps to not drink and drive, and to make sure that everyone gets home safe.”
Hannah Weyburne, 15, of Northville, who attended the event and was friends with Isabella Abbas, said she was glad that a change has been made to help prevent other people from losing friends and family to drunken drivers.
“I don’t plan on drinking alcohol after what happened, because it has many negative side effects, and I will definitely make sure that my friends have a designated driver if my friends decide to drink,” she said.
Hannah’s mother, Sarah Weyburne, said it is important for everyone throughout the world to be aware of the consequences of drinking and driving.
“The ripple effects are just horrendous for families, friends and loved ones,” she said.