Walking for Alicia

Jesse Hollett
Posted 10/11/17

ORANGE PARK – On April 19, 2013, a Dodge Charger stopped Alicia and David Gladden’s life.

The charger, driven by a U.S. Navy officer under the influence of alcohol, flew into oncoming traffic …

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Walking for Alicia

Posted

ORANGE PARK – On April 19, 2013, a Dodge Charger stopped Alicia and David Gladden’s life.

The charger, driven by a U.S. Navy officer under the influence of alcohol, flew into oncoming traffic on Roosevelt Boulevard near Interstate 10 and crashed the 27-year old’s Saturn, killing her instantly.

The wisdom of time and distance has muddled his hostility towards the sailor who killed his daughter. Instead of anger, he replaced it with a sense of understanding and forgiveness that was originally foreign.

“I don’t want to give him a pass because of what he did, but I give him a pass,” David said. “Because I think as individuals – he had people with him. He had friends that were with him, and they went with him. They got in the car with him, they followed him, none of them thought to say, ‘“hey, you’re not driving.”’

It wasn’t long after the crash that David came into contact with Texas-based advocacy group Mother’s Against Drunk Driving. The nonprofit advocates and raises funds for victims of drivers under the influence while driving and helps create policy towards stiffer punishments for offenders.

MADD will hold its annual Clay County Walk Like MADD 5K fundraising and awareness event Saturday, Nov. 4 at 8.30 a.m. at the corner of River Road and Wells Road on bestbet property.

An Orange Park resident, David has attended the last three events and plans to attend the November fundraiser as well. He said the companionship helps him recall the good times with his daughter that are divorced from the accident.

“Those events help. Anytime you can make people aware of the impact and how the everyday person like me can be affected, it‘s not just the other person, it could actually be you,” David said. “The more I talk about it, the better I feel.”

He remembers her as a woman driven to help influence young students through sports the same way her mentors did during her youth. He said she never got the chance to fulfill her dream.

The night of her death, Alicia was traveling back from a coaching engagement.

An Orange Park High graduate, Alicia dominated the basketball court and hoped to transition that passion from playing to coaching. She attended Florida State University for sports management and was a standout player for the Lady Seminoles. After FSU, she played for a professional women’s league in Europe for five years. Last November, Orange Park High retired her jersey in the RaiderDome.

MADD Program Specialist Judy Cotton said the 5K walk is more than just a fundraiser, it’s an awareness generator.

“A lot of people think that we’re a bunch of crazy old ladies that are out to shut down the alcohol industry,” she said. “We’re not – we just don’t want people to drink and drive…We’re out here for [victims], that’s what we’re trying to raise funds and awareness for. We want no more victims. We want it to stop.”

Between Oct. 10, 2016 and Oct 10, 2017, the Florida Highway Patrol recorded 158 DUIs in Clay County alone, a sobering reminder of a dangerous problem.

Cotton said the problem has evolved in the past years to include more than just alcohol. Due to the opioid crisis, more and more officers in Florida are finding traffic accidents caused not by alcohol, but by impairment due to prescription painkillers or heroin.

“We had one of our DUI officers in Clay County that told me a few months ago he was called to a crash on Kingsley [Avenue] and Blanding [Boulevard] on a Friday afternoon…it was a fender bender and the lady who had apparently caused it was impaired, and when he went to her car he tried to awaken her. He discovered that she still had the straw in her nose from where she was snorting heroin at the stop light,” Cotton said. “That’s what’s going on up there, so if you don’t think the opioid crisis affects you – it does.”

As the crisis develops, more are likely to be affected.

Gladden said he also a sense of guilt that accompanies what happened to his daughter. A military man himself, David has had more than one experience in driving under the influence.

He said when he was younger, he never thought he could kill someone by driving under the influence, doubtless part of the invincibility of youth.

He said both maturity and experience has provided him perspective.

David has tried to put the incident behind him, but admits thoughts of his daughter come flooding back to him whenever he sees a Dodge Charger or anything that reminds him of her.

“I miss her,” he said.

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