Marcy DeJesus, co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving whose teenage son was killed by a drunk driver years after she became involved with the group, has died. She was 67.
DeJesus, who had been undergoing kidney dialysis, died March 12 of renal failure at a West Hills nursing home, said her niece, Julie Wallach.
"Marcy was an enormous driving force in carving out a place for MADD within Los Angeles County," Tina Pasco, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter, told The Times. "She did a great deal of outreach with law enforcement and the public ... and never took her focus off of saving lives."
In 1981, DeJesus helped found the local chapter of MADD with Barbara Bloomberg, whose son, Seth, had been killed by a drunk driver. DeJesus' older son, Kiley, had been Seth's best friend.
Almost a decade later, her younger son Adam was killed in an Antelope Valley car crash. Darshan Grewal, 42, was found guilty of murder for being drunk when his Cadillac crashed head-on into her 19-year-old son's pickup truck on California 18.
Grewal was sentenced to 18 years to life and is still in prison, Wallach said.
Adam was killed instantly. His girlfriend, Shanya Roberson, sustained major injuries. She later became a nurse who often cared for DeJesus.
Days after her son's death in 1990, DeJesus told The Times: "What's been going through my mind ... has been, 'Ten years of work and what have I been doing? Has it made any difference at all if they can get my son?' "
In the same interview, she answered her own question.
"This is random. I've worked with so many families, I know I'm not the only one this has happened to and I won't be the last, although I pray every day I would be," DeJesus said.
But overcome with grief, she soon resigned as the local administrator of MADD.
"This basically has taken me beyond the realm of being able to do the work I was doing," DeJesus told The Times later in 1990. "I don't think anything prepares you for this. It's very different when it's yourself."
Her son's death was one in a series of devastating blows.
After her husband, Luchi, died of a brain tumor in 1985, she suffered a stroke four years later and had to walk with a cane. Adam had come home from UC Santa Barbara to be with her, and she had recently returned to her job at MADD when he was killed.
"It became hard for her to believe in justice," Wallach said. "She was caustic and forthright and brilliant ... and had a soft spot that few could see."
Born May 12, 1939, in New York City, DeJesus was the second daughter of Al and Ann Melville. Her father was a boxer and bartender, and her mother booked entertainers to perform at resorts in the Catskill Mountains.
Working as an executive secretary, she met musician Luchi DeJesus and married him in 1960.
Five years later, they came to California from New York City. He worked as a composer, mainly in television.
In 1970, they moved to Canoga Park to raise their family.
More than a decade later, DeJesus began working with MADD. DeJesus helped build the Los Angeles chapter into a 5,000-member organization and create programs -- such as taking the group's message into schools -- that became models for MADD at the national level.
"She was great working with victims. They loved her," Candy Lightner, who founded the national organization, told The Times in 1990. "She was very understanding, and impatient with the courts. That was good."
In addition to her son Kiley, DeJesus is survived by her sister, Linda Fulmer.
Plans for a memorial service are pending.
Memorial contributions may be made to MADD, www.madd.org.