“Hey, this is Michael, just leave me a message, all right, bye.” It’s a voice Pat Tufts can only hear on a handful of recordings. This one, a saved outgoing message on her son Michael’s phone. A phone she uses every day to remember her son after a drunken driver killed him.
“It’s hard. We’re moving slowly forward. It’s baby steps. Sometimes we take two steps forward, then one step back. There’s not a day we don’t think about him. In the evening it seems to get harder because the world quiets down and you have time to think,” said Pat Tufts.
Michael Tufts, Michelle Morrow and their friend John had stopped at a light on Providence Road in Columbia on a December night back in 2012. Twenty-year-old Spencer Gordon and a friend were to the right of them — Spencer was driving. He had been out with friends celebrating the end of the fall semester — partying that included alcohol.
“I asked my roommate if he was wanting to drive cause I didn’t know who had more or less. But he didn’t know how to drive a stick shift. I said don’t worry about it we’re not very far from home. So, I said I can get us there, ya know,” said Spencer Gordon.
Spencer’s vehicle crossed into the left lane, sideswiping the pickup Michael, Michelle and John were in. The pickup violently rolled several times. Michelle and Michael were thrown from the vehicle.
“I remember getting out of the car and absolutely almost feeling nothing — feeling like you can’t breathe — instinct, just running, checking on them, trying to see if they’re OK. If there’s anything I can do,” said Gordon.
Emergency crews rushed Michelle and Michael to the hospital. Michelle died the next day around 1:30 in the afternoon.
“Begging God. Please, let this be a nightmare. This can’t be real. This can’t really be happening. It was happening,” said Gordon.
After the crash, Spencer blew a .122 during a breathalyzer test — the legal limit is .08.
Michael would lie in a hospital bed, then a long-term care facility with machines keeping him alive more than a year and a half.
“I remember telling him. I don’t want you to go. I don’t want you to be like this, but you do what you have to do,” said Tufts.
Last August Michael Tufts died.
In 2012, the year of Michelle and Michael’s crash, Missouri saw a spike in deadly drunken driving crashes, but over the past decade, drunken driving incidents have been on a downward trend. Injury crashes between 2005 and 2013 dropped by almost 1,200 and fatal crashes by 65.
Just a few of the people who were hurt or killed in drunken driving crashes are pictured on a victim panel in the Central Missouri’s MADD office.
“One of the things Missouri stacks up well against — No. 1 in enforcement. We have some of the highest enforcement totals in the United States,” said Herman “Bud” Balke with MADD.
Balke said Missouri courts also get fairly high marks when it comes to DWI convictions. Boone, Callaway and Cole counties have over a 60 percent conviction rate. One county falling short is Osage with a conviction rate of less than 20 percent.
“The prosecution rates are something MADD as an organization and as a state organization we take a look at very closely. We have for many, many years. Obviously, we’re never pleased if a conviction rate is low in any county,” said Balke.
As ABC 17 News reported in June of 2014, Spencer Gordon was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of second degree assault in Boone County court.
“I don’t hate him. In a sense I have forgiven him — for peace. But I hope as a young man he will tell his story. It was a choice he made. It caused a lot of tragedy,” said Tufts.
Pat Tufts said she wants Michael’s story to be told and hopes it will prevent drunken driving deaths.
Spencer Gordon is set to be released from prison May 2020. He plans to spend much of his time teaching others about the dangers and tragedy of driving drunk.
The Missouri Highway Patrol gave ABC 17’s Dan Messineo a field sobriety test during a controlled drinking demonstration called a “wet lab.” MSHP did not supply any alcohol for the demonstration. Also, Dan did not drive afterward. He was taken home by a coworker. Click on the link to see the full story.