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When Bad Choices Are Fatal

March 02, 2003

This could be just the story of another teenager making a dumb, tragic mistake: drinking, then driving, then crashing in a rollover that killed one passenger and injured the other. But 19-year-old Audrey Rose Brecht's "mistake" was previewed with two other drunken driving citations, including two license suspensions. And, after this last and most horrible incident, Brecht has a parent who still is making excuses for her daughter's behavior.

At 16, Audrey Brecht got into her first drunk-driving accident, DMV records show, and her license was suspended for a year. During that year, she drove a friend's car anyway, her mother, Laura, said in an interview, and was involved in a second drunk-driving accident. Again, DMV records show, her license was suspended for a year. She also went into court-ordered counseling, her mother said.

In February, Brecht, who lives with her parents in Seal Beach, hit the road once more, borrowing her dad's Ford Explorer for a trip to Mammoth Lakes with two friends. She had regained her license nine months earlier, and according to the Mono County prosecutor now charging her with second-degree murder, she admitted that she and her friends started drinking soon after their trip started. Several miles from their destination, the Explorer veered off the road onto a grassy median, then rolled several times, according to the prosecutor. Jennifer Bammer, a 22-year-old Laguna Beach woman in the back seat, was thrown from the car and instantly killed. Another passenger was briefly hospitalized.

Preliminary breath tests showed Brecht's blood alcohol level at 0.23, nearly three times the level to be considered legally drunk. Bail has been set at $250,000.

Laura Brecht says it was simply a tragic accident and that her daughter is brokenhearted about Bammer's death. Deputy Dist. Atty. Tim Kendall contends that Audrey Brecht at first tried to convince officers that the dead woman had been driving, but later admitted being behind the wheel. Laura Brecht says the accident might not have been solely her daughter's fault, that an SUV rollover problem may have contributed and that Bammer's failure to wear a seat belt was her own responsibility. Most people drink and drive as teenagers, she says, but her daughter has been particularly unlucky.

The majority of the time Audrey Brecht has had a driver's license, it's been suspended. The courts and DMV dished out reasonable consequences for a juvenile, but Brecht neither abided by her first license suspension nor learned the lessons from her counseling. A parent's sympathy and excuses are natural but did nothing for her. A firm hand that refused to give her a set of keys might have shifted her course enough to save the girl's future and her friend's life. Parents have no guidebook for rearing an obviously troubled child and are often torn between keeping order and keeping a teen's trust. But two DUIs are a cry for help, not for sympathy.

Now Audrey Brecht faces a firm hand. But it's attached to prosecutor Kendall, who believes that the murder charge -- with its minimum 15-year sentence if she's convicted -- is the only way to keep Brecht from endangering other lives on the road.

Parents can find information and links at the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Web site, www.madd.org/under21. Click on Parents.

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