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Walkers share stories, hope for stop to drunk driving

The Baalson family of Kenyon participates in Walk Like MADD Saturday at Silver Lake. "This is something Jacob would have enjoyed doing," said Jennifer Baalson, second from right, of her son, who was a passenger and was killed in a car driven by a drunken driver March 19, 2011. "If anything could go wrong in that accident, it did go wrong," she said. Also pictured are Jacob's grandparents, Roger and Kay Baalson of Nerstrand, and, in back from left, cousin Molly Sartor of Faribault; cousin Julianna Baalson of Kenyon; and sisters Leah and Heather Baalson of Kenyon.

One by one, people walked up to a makeshift stage at Silver Lake on Saturday morning and, with emotion in their voices, told the stories of what had brought them to Rochester's first Walk Like MADD event.

Among those who spoke about friends and family members killed by drunken drivers was Jennifer Baalson, of Kenyon, whose 19-year-old son, Jacob, died in a 2011 crash in Holden Township.

"Jacob would have loved to have been here," said Baalson, who was part of the eight-member Jacob's Bandanna Team that participated in the walk around Silver Lake. The event raised money for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

A statewide Walk Like MADD event has been held in St. Paul for the past six years. Rochester and St. Cloud are the only cities in Minnesota where volunteers have organized smaller event, but MADD officials hope they will spread throughout the state.

The Rochester event drew about 150 people and raised approximately $13,000.


Around 98 percent of the people who participate in Walk Like MADD events are either survivors of crashes caused by drunken drivers or family members of victims of drunken drivers, according to Brenda Thomas, executive director of MADD's Minnesota office.

Besides Baalson, other walkers told stories about loved ones who died in crashes dating back to 1986.

Nine-year-old Bella Morgan, of Mitchell, S.D., was killed by a drunken driver in March, leading family members to make the 300-mile car trip from Morgan's hometown to Rochester to participate in the walk. There are no events similar to Walk Like MADD in the Mitchell area, said Bella's mother, Jeanie, so she came to Rochester so she could learn how to organize something similar back home.

"We need more education," she said. There was an outpouring of concern after Bella's death, she said, but "people, after time, forget, and they go back to their old ways."

The Rochester walk was organized by Sandy Melville, the mother of 23-year-old Austin Melville, who was killed nearly two years ago by a drunken driver in downtown Rochester.

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