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Activist in Drunk-Driving Cause Dies in Crash

December 22, 1986|JAN KLUNDER | Times Staff Writer

Karen Heilman, who helped launch a campaign in the Santa Clarita Valley to dissuade teen-agers from driving drunk, was remembered Sunday after her death in a car accident as a woman who "attracted kids like a magnet."

"She was tough on them, and yet they just loved her," fellow activist Micki Strickland said in a telephone interview.

Heilman, 37, of Canyon Country was killed Friday in a two-car collision in Valencia. She was a passenger in a car driven by her daughter, Shannon, 17, that was broadsided by another vehicle on Valencia Boulevard as the Heilman car was making a left turn onto Cinema Drive, authorities said.

Shannon Heilman and the driver of the other car, Denyse Siembieda, 29, of Saugus were reported in stable condition Sunday at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital.

The cause of the accident was under investigation, but alcohol was not believed to be involved, police said.

Son Died in March

Heilman's son, Joe Crawford, 18, died in March after crashing his car while driving drunk.

"It's one thing after another for that family," said William White, principal of Canyon High School, where Joe Crawford had been a student and where his mother made a public appeal to his classmates not to drink and drive.

Karen Heilman and Strickland, also of Canyon Country, had shared tragedies of drunk driving.

Strickland's daughter, Laura, 17, who attended the Canyon High School prom with Joe Crawford in 1985, died later that year when the car she was driving flipped over several times on a winding road. Tests revealed that she had been drinking.

After the deaths of their children, the two mothers initiated a campaign earlier this year to inform other students of the perils of drunk driving.

Warned Students

The women distributed 600 posters of their children in prom attire throughout Canyon Country, Saugus, Newhall and Valencia. A billboard of the teen-age couple, with a warning not to drink and drive, was erected on Soledad Canyon Road and has since been moved to Sand Canyon Road, Strickland said.

In June, the two delivered an emotional appeal to 2,200 students at Canyon High School not to mix driving with alcohol or drugs.

White on Sunday recalled their speech as "a very moving presentation. It put a big knot in my throat."

In part because of their efforts, Canyon's school advisory council has established a special program next semester to educate students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, White said.

Students caught on campus with drugs or liquor, or under the influence of either, will be asked to participate in a program at Henry Mayo hospital as part of the usual 5-day suspension, White said. The program will include volunteer work at the hospital, he said.

Strickland said she has not decided whether to carry on the crusade without Heilman.

"I know kids who have straightened out their lives after hearing us speak," she said, "but it seems like a very small minority. You plant a lot of seeds and you don't know which ones will grow, but you hope some take root."

Funeral arrangements were pending.

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