Windsor parents promote safe, sober driving years after son killed by drunk driver – Greeley Tribune
Julie Legg described losing her son to a drunk driving crash in 2004 as barbed wire wrapped around a tree.
The barbed wire marks don’t go away, but the tree doesn’t stop growing.
Sr. Airman Kristopher Mansfield, 23, was leaving his work at the Buckley Space Force Base in Aurora on Sept. 4, 2004, when a drunk driver struck his motorcycle at Colorado Boulevard and Ohio Avenue.
“It’s strange,” Julie said. “They talk about a new normal, you know? And our new normal, our whole family’s new normal, has been life without Kris.”
Since 2019, there have been twice as many impaired driving deaths on Colorado roads, from 36 in 2019 to 72 in 2022, according to fatal crash data from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
In Weld County, 12 impaired-related fatal crashes occurred in 2021, killing 17, data showed. In the first four months of 2022, Weld County has had two fatal crashes involving impairment.
Ever since the day they lost their son, Windsor residents Julie and her husband Don, have dedicated their time to sharing Mansfield’s story and informing the community about the importance of drunk driving prevention. Julie, in particular, has become an active member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving by helping with fundraiser efforts for the annual northern Colorado Walk Like MADD event. For 14 years, she has also spoken at DUI victim impact panels in Fort Collins and Greeley, as well as schools in Colorado.
“We don’t want anybody else to have to experience what we experienced,” Mansfield’s stepdad Don said.
Mansfield’s life continues to make a difference
In July 2001, when a 20-year-old Mansfield made the decision to join the US Air Force, Julie asked him why.
“He said, ‘I’m 20 years old, and I want my life to make a difference,'” Julie said.
Stationed in Aurora, Mansfield began his military career in satellite communications. By January 2004, he was deployed to Iraq for five months. Upon his return, the Air Force sent him to Fort Gordon in Georgia to learn more about his career field.
When he came back to Colorado, he called his mother, who had no idea their talk would be such a pivotal moment and long-lasting memory for her.
“He called us on Sept. 3 to tell us he was back and all was well and, ‘I love you, mom,'” Julie said. “Last thing he ever said to me.”
Sr. Airman Kristopher Mansfield graduating from US Air Force basic training in December 2001. Mansfield was killed by a drunk driver when he was 23 years old on Sept. 4, 2004, after leaving the Buckley Space Force Base in Aurora. (Courtesy of Julie Legg)
On Sept. 4, the Leggs received the news that Mansfield was in the ICU with head trauma after the crash.
“We went in, and this young man, who two nights before was alive and vibrant and healthy, was lying in a bed with his head all bandaged, and there were breathing machines for him,” Julie said.
Two days later, Julie said her family made the tough decision to turn off the machines and Kris passed away in a room filled with people who loved him.
“Because of what he said when he joined the Air Force — he wanted his life to make a difference — and we are continuing to make his life have a difference,” Julie said about her drunk driving prevention efforts.
As Memorial Day, the holiday with the most motor-vehicle fatalities, approaches, the time to share Mansfield’s story is more crucial than ever, the Leggs said.
Memorial Day drunk-driving dangers
One-third of fatalities on Colorado roads involve an impaired driver, but over Memorial Day weekend, 57% of the fatalities in the state involve an impaired driver, according to Sam Cole, CDOT’s Traffic Safety Communications Manager
Combating a large number of drunk driving fatalities remains a focal point year-round in the state, but the much higher rate of fatalities over Memorial Day and other holiday weekends is a main concern for CDOT. Each year around Memorial Day, the department uses prevention methods including increased law enforcement patrol, campaigns and education initiatives.
“We are launching a partnership called ‘Decide to Ride’ in conjunction with MADD and Anheuser-Busch to encourage people to plan ahead and use rideshare programs,” Cole said. “It is a partnership with Uber, and we expect to offer discount rideshare over the summer.”
If Julie could say one thing to an inebriated person about to get behind the wheel and drive, she would say: “Don’t!”
“It’s not worth it because you’re not only screwing up somebody else’s life, but you are really screwing up your own life,” she said. “We have so many ways to get a ride these days. Greeley and Fort Collins have buses. There’s Uber. There’s Lyft. There’s call a friend.
“Have a plan before you leave the house.”
CDOT also has a campaign featured on billboards, radio ads and social media throughout the summer called “It’s Not Complicated,” reminding Coloradans it is never okay to drive no matter how many alcoholic beverages are consumed.
A University of San Diego study found even “minimally buzzed” drivers are more often to blame for fatal crashes than sober drivers, Julie referenced. People with 0.01% of alcohol in their system had slower reaction times and altered cognition, according to the study.
In addition, CDOT’s drunk driving prevention methods for the summer months are focusing their efforts on younger men, in hopes the message will reach the group who tend to be both the victims and the offenders in impaired driving-related crashes on Colorado roads, Cole said .
‘None of it was going to bring Kris back’
The Leggs, along with Cole, encourage those to plan ahead before making the decision to drink, because the outcome of driving drunk can alter multiple lives, including the impaired person who chooses to get behind the wheel.
“Getting a DUI can cause extreme havoc to your life,” Cole said. “You have a criminal record. You can lose your job. Fines can be upwards of $13,000, and you can lose your license. A little bit of planning can go a long way, and avoid a lot of hassle and possibly even save your life.”
The driver who hit Mansfield, a 51-year-old personal injury attorney named Michael Miranda, was sentenced to eight years in prison. The night of the crash, Miranda had an open bottle of liquor in the vehicle and a blood alcohol level of 0.217 — nearly three times the legal limit.
“We actually sent a letter to Miranda’s parole officer, and we told him three things,” Julie said. “We told him we forgave him, we wanted him to use his experience to share it with other people and we wanted him to never ever drink and drive again.”
Sr. Airman Kristopher Mansfield on his way home in May 2004 from his deployment in Iraq. Mansfield was killed by a drunk driver when he was 23 years old on Sept. 4, 2004, after leaving the Buckley Space Force Base in Aurora. (Courtesy of Julie Legg)
Although Miranda only served about half of his sentence, and the journey toward justice took a lengthy amount of time, Julie said it didn’t matter because “none of it was going to bring Kris back.”
“We talk about finding a cure for various kinds of cancers. We will never know the cure for this,” Julie said. “We don’t have to find it. It’s, ‘Here are my keys.’”