Restorative Justice, beyond the victim-offender conference.

From an article in the Eau Claire Leader.

HUDSON – Randy Spence admits it would take a miracle for him to ever forgive the drunken driver who killed his daughter.

But Spence also realizes how close he came to possibly taking the lives of four people years later when checking his phone and running a stop sign.

Spence, 55, an attorney who lives in River Falls, is very emotional when discussing the death of his daughter, Alyssa, and is humbled that an accident he caused didn’t have tragic consequences.

Spence regularly makes presentations at schools and other events. He provides a detailed, heart-wrenching account of the devastation he and his family have endured at the hands of a drunken driver.

“If I convince one person not to drink and drive, doing this is worth it,” Spence said last week at the St. Croix County Government Center during a St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program session.

Alyssa Spence, 21, died five days after a near head-on collision April 13, 2003, near River Falls. Ryan C. Foley, now 30, pleaded guilty in Pierce County Court to homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle.

Foley, a UW-River Falls student who had been at taverns and a house party before the crash, was sentenced to seven years in prison followed by five years of extended supervision. He was released from prison in October 2010.

Foley had a blood alcohol level of 0.235 percent, almost three times the legal limit, when he crossed the centerline and hit the car Alyssa was driving. She died on her mother’s birthday.

“When you lose someone it’s hard to let go,” a tearful Spence said. “That’s still how it is, how it always will be. I miss her every day.”

Ready to talk

Spence said he was never interested in taking part in the Restorative Justice Program, which involves school and community-based programs that emphasize repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. It allows, in part, for victims and offenders to meet.

“I have no interest to ever be face to face with the murderer of my child,” Spence emphasized.

But his involvement with the program changed about 9:45 p.m. July 29, 2010, when he ran a stop sign after playing golf and having a couple of beers at a rural River Falls course. His car hit a Lexus SUV broadside. Two women in the SUV were injured, with one, 63, receiving three fractured vertebrae, a broken ankle and broken rib.

Spence assisted the people at the scene, where he also broke down emotionally and told police about the traffic death of his daughter, according to police accounts. Spence said he looked down to check a message on his phone when he ran the stop sign.

He was charged with two misdemeanor counts of causing bodily harm by reckless driving. He entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, meaning the charges would be dismissed if he abided by conditions of the agreement, which included community service.

That service has included talks to students and others about the dangers of drunk driving and inattentive driving.

“My son (Adam) was on a cross country trip, and I saw the light flashing on my phone. I went into a panic with the memory of Alyssa, thinking something might have happened to him,” Spence said. “The whole thing was kind of ironic. I could have killed someone.

“I was allowed to enter into the DPA if I engaged in restorative justice,” he added. “I realized that my original hesitation with restorative justice was misplaced, and if my daughter was here, I know she would want me to do this.”

Making an impact

Spence starts his presentation with a video of his daughter that graphically displays her injuries from the crash, a presentation his wife, Bobbi, has never seen.

“My wife is the strongest person I know, but I don’t think she would ever want to see this; she lives the loss every day,” he said.

Deb Ottman, a family consumer science teacher at River Falls High School, has witnessed emotional and varied responses students have after Spence’s presentation, including one last week.

“It’s very hard to listen to. He definitely comes across with quite an impact, and the kids are very emotional and have lots of questions when he leaves,” Ottman said. “I can tell the kids have been affected at some level.”

Ottman’s life skills class is for juniors and seniors, and covers conflict resolution, decision making, grief and relationships, “items they will be dealing with their whole lives.

“Each kid takes away something different,” she said. “The idea is that we get to hear each other’s story and learn from it. In this case, kids might not be so willing to drink and drive or text while they drive. Any gain is a gain.”

Kris Miner, executive director of SCVRJP, said there is great value to victim impact panels, teen driving circles, victim empathy seminars and other programs.

“The key is to change behavior by a change of heart; the idea of choosing a different behavior when faced with a similar situation,” she said. “You make your choice, but you don’t choose your consequences.”

Rupnow can be reached at 715-830-5831, 800-236-7077 orchuck.rupnow@ecpc.com.