CLINTON - After not learning of her son's ultimately fatal accident until hours later, mother wants emergency contact information digitally encoded on drivers licenses.
On April 11, 2003, Sharon Cloutier woke around midnight wondering why her son Joshua, who had just received his driver’s license and was out with his mother’s car, wasn’t home yet. Chalking it up to a youthful exuberance, Cloutier managed to fall back to sleep, thinking her son would come walking through the door at any minute.
An hour later, she woke to a phone call from a parent of one of Joshua’s friends. The vehicle Joshua had been a passenger in had just careened off of Swett Hill Road in Sterling and struck a tree. Victims were taken to UMass.-Memorial Medical Center in Worcester. The phone call came three hours after the accident.
When Cloutier and her husband arrived at the hospital, their son, who had been unconscious when emergency personnel arrived at the scene of the crash, was already on life support. Joshua, 20, never regained consciousness and six days later his parents agreed to take him off the machines that were keeping him alive.
“We don’t know what people in that kind of state can hear, but to think that my son could have been lying there and thinking to himself, ‘Oh my God, I’m all alone. Where are my parents?’ still hurts me,” Cloutier said last week, wiping tears from her eyes. “I understand, because of his age, he was considered an adult, but this was my child that was living with me at the time of the accident. You have four kids in the car; my son was in the worst shape of all, and his family wasn’t notified until three hours after the accident.”
Cloutier was inspired by the death of her son to create the Forever Our Stars Children’s Memorial Garden at Reservoir Pines Cemetery on West Boylston Street. She’s now looking to once again pull something positive from the tragic wreckage.
Last week, Cloutier began a crusade to have emergency contact information digitally encoded on the back of driver licenses, so if someone is ever in an accident, police can quickly access the information. Cloutier said she wants to prevent another parent or loved one from waiting hours, if not days, to hear about an accident.
Cloutier is looking to piggyback on similar efforts already happening in a number of other states, including Florida and New Jersey. Cloutier learned of the idea when she read about a similar effort being led by a woman that lost her daughter in a motorcycle accident and didn’t learn of her death until she read about it in the paper the next day.
As part of her efforts, Cloutier presented a packet of information to Clinton Police Chief Mark Laverdure, and has begun lobbying officials at the state level, including state Rep. Harold Naughton Jr., D-Clinton, and local state Sens. Harriette Chandler and Robert Antonioni.
“We’re looking into it and making sure there is nothing like this already in place at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, but I think this makes some sense,” Chandler said. “I think this is a compassionate piece of legislation that could potentially save some families a lot of heartache. I’m fascinated by it and plan on supporting it.”
The initiative also received the seal of approval from Laverdure and Lancaster Police Chief Kevin Lamb, who recently had to deal with two deaths stemming from automobile accidents.
“We try and notify people of an accident as soon as we can,” Lamb said. “I’m sure it could be beneficial, and if it assisted one person in finding a loved one that has been in an accident, it would be worth it.”
Cloutier’s plans are in a holding pattern until she determines what her next step in the process will be. At this time, she said, the only thing she is looking for is support.
“When Joshua died, you don’t realize how many people come out of the woodwork to support you and [who] have lost a child, so you can’t tell me that there aren’t people out there that this has happened to,” Cloutier said. “It’s something that is positive and it’s something that I feel strongly about because I don’t think this is something that any parent should have to deal with.”
As for finding the will to turn something so tragic into something positive, Cloutier said it was all part of her healing process.
“I need to do something positive with this,” Cloutier said. “I don’t want to see another parent have to go through this. If a child is going to pass away, they shouldn’t be alone, and a parent should be there for that last goodbye, kiss or hug. I saw Joshua about five hours before the accident happened and I was able to get my last kiss from him. For that last breath, I think a parent should be there to hold their child’s hand. If this can give a parent those few minutes, that’s going to mean something to someone.”
Patrick Brodrick of the Times & Courier (Clinton, Mass.) can be reached at 978-365-8044 or email@example.com.