Harrison County

Couple turns their own ‘worst day’ into way to help others

Bill Down stands near photos of the loved ones he lost to a drunken driver in 2007.
Bill Down stands near photos of the loved ones he lost to a drunken driver in 2007. ttisbell@sunherald.com File

Saucier couple Bill and Julie Downs say Oct. 7, 2007, was their worst day ever.

They lost their son, daughter-in-law and a young man they loved as a son to a drunken driver in a head-on collision on Mississippi 53 near Canal Road in Harrison County.

But the couple continues to turn their worst day into a way of helping others, in part by their contributions to the “Grief Diaries” series of anthologies published by award-winning, best-selling author Lynda Cheldelin Fell.

The Downs co-authored “Loss By Impaired Driving,” published June 8, and told of the loss of their son, Brad Downs, 21; daughter-in-law, Samantha Downs, 19, and the couple’s close friend Chris Dafoe, 24. In November, the book was named a finalist in the 2016 Best Books Awards by i310 Media Group in Los Angeles.

Now, AlyBlue Media, Fell’s publishing company has published a second book with the couple’s help and more books are rolling off the presses.

The couple co-authored “Shattered,” released Nov. 1. It shares stories of men and women, including the Downs, who reveal emotions shattered by the crimes of impaired drivers and ways impaired drivers skirt justice.

Bill Downs was a contributor to “Through The Eyes of Men.” It was published Friday and gives insight on how men grieve differently than women.

The couple were contributors to “Will We Survive,” to be released Thursday.

And Julie Downs has co-authored “Hit By a Drunk, Drugged Driver,” being published Jan. 22.

Sad holidays

“The day we lost our family was the worst day ever,” Bill Downs said. “We want to keep telling our story to help raise awareness about the dangers of impaired driving and to help others deal with grief.”

The holiday season serves as a good time for a reminder of sober driving, he said, but it’s a time of grief for him and his wife. This is their 10th Christmas without their loved ones.

Julie and Bill Downs found AVID, author stories in just released book 'Grief Diaries.'

The couple also oversees the work of Advocates for Victims of Impaired/Distracted Driving, a nonprofit group they helped form.

Bill Downs is an administrator of four online support groups for victims. He also hosts AVIDD Voices, classes in which people convicted of DUI are court-ordered to attend to hear victims tell about their lost loved ones and the emotional devastation.

Julie Downs is AVIDD’s board secretary and has four online support groups on Facebook. She says the closed groups help others share their grief, which can bring comfort, and allow them to understand they are not alone.

Most recently, AVIDD obtained enough donations for a trailer to display Brad Downs’ mangled car at schools for public-safety events.

Books broach different topics

The “Grief Diaries” series includes books that specialize in different types of grief and life struggles. Topics include surviving a loved one’s suicide, the death of a spouse or child, living with a traumatic brain injury, homicide cold cases and grieving for loved ones with a mental illness or other life-altering disorder.

The books feature the journeys of more than 500 men and women in 11 countries. Each book contains inspirational comments by Fell.

The books are available on Amazon, at Barnes And Noble and griefdairies.com. The Downs also have some of the books available for sale. You can reach Bill Downs at 228-669-7218 or contact his group at avid4duivictims@cableone.net.

Fell is board president of the National Grief and Hope Coalition. She named her publishing company for her daughter Aly, a 15-year-old competitive swimmer killed in a car crash.

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