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DWI memorial a field of tears

A mother who lost her only son spearheaded an effort to build a place of solace in the New Mexico desert.

September 14, 2008|Matt Mygatt | Associated Press

MORIARTY, N.M. — Tears drip on this patch of hardscrabble central New Mexico desert land -- tears in steel, tears in concrete. A mother's tears.

This is Sonja Britton's field of shattered dreams -- a unique national memorial to victims of drunk drivers budding from four acres of scrubby grass dotted with cholla cactus and yucca.

Victims like Britton, who lost her only son when a drunk driver motoring down the wrong side of a road near Durango, Colo., plowed head-on into a car, which in turn struck the motorcycle her son was driving.

Monty Bryan Britton -- "Butch" to his family -- died instantly on Aug. 18, 1991. He left behind a wife, young son, his father and a sister.

And a grieving mother who slumped into a two-year funk.

"I was just kind of a void. I did seem to function all right, but I was just kind of out of it," says Britton.

But this 5-foot-3 dynamo pulled out, immersing herself in drunk driving prevention programs at schools in town, including her alma mater, Moriarty High School. She became a member of the Torrance County DWI Council when she thought that drunk driving victims and their survivors needed to be recognized.

"When you lose a son or daughter in a war, there's a purpose to that, but when you lose a son or daughter to a drunken driver, there's no purpose to that," Britton says.

She told her fellow council members about her idea, and received their support. Not-for-profit bylaws were drawn up in 1994. The Memorial of Perpetual Tears-New Mexico National DWI Victims' Memorial was off the ground -- but ground is what Britton needed.

The owner of Mike's Friendly Store stepped in.

"Sonja had been working on this project for a long time, and one day she said she would like to have that built in Moriarty, but would like the property donated," Mike Anaya says. "I thought it was a worthwhile project and would bring people into the Moriarty area."

Anaya, wife Mary and brother Ralph Anaya decided to donate the four acres about three years ago, some 50 yards north of Interstate 40 in Moriarty. Other donations trickled in -- money, building materials, labor, architects' designs. And almost $1 million in funding from the state and some $92,000 from the city of Moriarty, which has adopted the memorial as a public project. The city of Albuquerque has kicked in $50,000.

The total so far: more than $1.7 million.

The donations include $10,000 from Jay Boydston, a Moriarty car dealer whose parents were killed by a drunk driver in 1988 on I-40, just west of Tucumcari.

"They were headed east and he [the westbound drunken driver] decided to use the restroom and got off the interstate in the middle and got back on the east side headed west," Boydston says.

"My parents were behind a big truck and when they came from behind it, they were hit head-on," he says. "The drunk, he burned to death in the car he was driving."

The names of Joy and Lucille Boydston and Monty Bryan "Butch" Britton are engraved in foot-square granite tiles, each embedded in three concrete benches at the memorial's southern portion.

"I still haven't found peace, to tell you the truth," Boydston says. "I don't think the families of victims ever find peace."

Boydston says he visits the memorial and feels a sense of pride.

"I go out there and I talk to my parents and, I don't know," he says as his thoughts trail off.

A poem by Monty's mother adorns his memorial: "Pieces of you and pieces of me flow from the past to eternity."

The benches of blood-red, curved cinder block walls, which are in front of a two-acre field of more than 900 powder-coated gray, unmarked plate-steel memorial markers, each about knee-high.

"These are made of steel and the reason we chose steel is because of the way people die," Britton says. "They're literally killed by a steel machine. In fact, we've done a lot of things here in steel for that very reason."

Britton designed the markers, each topped with an S-curve, a portion of one curve representing the lower part of the eye. Tears are cut into the marker, falling from a corner of the eye.

The "Field of Markers" represents five years of drunk driving deaths in New Mexico.

The number of markers is updated each year -- some are removed if the latest year's tally falls, some added if it rises.

"It perpetually represents five years, so every year it's adjusted," Britton says.

The field has room for about 1,500 markers. "I hope we don't have to fill them," Britton says. Her ultimate goal -- no markers.

"Some day, we will have a place where children can play," she says. "We won't have any deaths by DWI someday. That's going to happen."

Three hollow metal cylinders stand near the benches, ranging from about 5 feet to 3 feet tall, each about a foot in diameter.

"This is a memorial for unknown victims. We don't know who they are or how they died. There's no one here to represent them or recognize them," Britton says.

"Three columns represent the family unit and also represent the community as a support," she says.

And the glass atop each cylinder?

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