By Whitney Vickers
FAIRBORN — Tom Carey was out of the Army for less than a year when he moved from his parents’ home to his own place on nearby Kauffman Avenue. He was awaiting paperwork from the military that would allow him to drive a truck for a living but was temporarily supporting himself with a position at the former local Dairy Mart.
He was not on the schedule to work third shift Jan. 14, 1996 but felt the need to go in anyway because a couple of ladies were working and he did not like the idea of them being alone. So he left his home approximately 10:30 p.m. but didn’t make it to his destination.
On his walk down Kauffman Avenue to the Dairy Mart, Carey was hit by a drunk driver.
“He walked in the street to get out of the snow and that’s when the guy came along,” Tom’s sister, Christine Carey said. ” … He hit him, threw him on [top of] the Jeep, swerved enough to throw him off, threw him onto Euclid [Avenue] down to the next street where the car wash is.”
The call received by police stated that a drunken man had fallen into the street, but that is not what officers discovered upon their arrival. The weather prevented CareFlight from responding, and the amount of trauma Tom Carey sustained kept Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s medical facilities from being able to help.
He was transported to Miami Valley Hospital, which reached out to his parents. When they arrived, they were met by police officers and a preacher.
“They worked for about 45 minutes on him, then he was gone,” Christine Carey said. “They just couldn’t get him back.”
His heart stopped beating on the operating table after doctors made an incision on his head to relieve pressure on his brain in the early-morning hours of Jan. 15, 1996.
He was 23-years-old.
Immediate family members, including Christine Carey and father, Larry Carey, place a sign in the front yard of their Garland Avenue home nearly every year around the anniversary of his death. It reads “In loving memory of our son Tom. Please don’t drink and drive.”
“There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t hear about a drunk driving crash and we see another family go through our pain,” Christine Carey said. “The sign to us, if we can stop one person, maybe that’s one more life saved and one more family that doesn’t have to go through the pain.”
The sign did not make it out for the first time last year, as Tom Carey’s mother died in early December 2014.
The city originally agreed to allow them to place the sign in their lawn if Christmas decorations were also in the yard, but Christine Carey said city leaders recently retracted that thought and allowed them to keep the sign out whether decorations are present or not. The company which rents the sign to the Carey’s does so at a lower rate.
And although the sign has caused some residents to complain to the city, Tom Carey’s family feels that it has also done its job.
“The very first year, three college girls came to the door and said they were going to go out and drink that night, but because of our sign decided to go home,” Larry Carey said.
They have received a number of cards and letters throughout the years, and got involved in Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
“We had a lady over the weekend who came knocking on the door,” Larry Carey said. “I was about to leave, but she said ‘I drove by, saw your sign, drove back by and back down again and stopped. I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m an alcoholic — but because of your sign, I’m going to go to AA.’”
They remember Tom Carey as being bubbly; he loved hugs and planes, played with matchbox cars and Legos and drew in his spare time. They described him as happy and someone who knew everyone, formerly serving as the DJ at the local skating rink.
“It’s just not fair,” Christine Carey said. “He didn’t do anything wrong, and he was an amazing person. He was my best friend.”
His photos and belongings, including the Kyle Petty baseball cap he wore the night of the accident, now sit on a shelf in their living room. A bench found off Kauffman Avenue near Euclid Avenue was purchased by the Carey Family dedicated to Tom Carey. The City of Fairborn works to maintain it.
“We try to get the message out as much as possible because it’s a problem,” Christine Carey said. “So many people turn to alcohol and think it’ll solve their problems … We know the pain and when we hear of another crash, we know it. We know what that call is about. It’s hard, it’s never easy and when these judges go so light on them like it’s nothing — it’s not nothing — you just took a life, you just used a different weapon. A car is a weapon.”
“I feel it this way: if you’re going to drink, go ahead and drink — I don’t care,” Larry Carey said. “But drink at home. What are the holidays? Family time. Not going out, drinking by yourself and leaving your family at home. Don’t drink and drive because the life you save may be your son or daughter.”