High Behind the Wheel: The Unseen Victims - NBC Boston

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High Behind the Wheel: The Unseen Victims

Family says the state isn't doing enough to keep drugged drivers off the road

Victims' families say while the opioid epidemic is a public health crisis, it is a public safety crisis, as well. (Published Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017)

Iris McGrath said her daughter Brittany lived more fully in her three decades than some people do in a lifetime.

"She just had a dance in her walk."

That life of possibility was snatched away one sunny Thursday afternoon by James Ainsworth. He and his girlfriend were high on heroin. Taking turns at the wheel of their SUV. One would drive until they'd start to nod off, then the other would take over.

But Ainsworth passed out and the SUV plowed into Ed and Brittany McGrath - out for their annual father-daughter motorcycle ride in Easthampton, Massachusetts.

Ed was 62. Brittany just 29.

"I just... I don't even know how to imagine it," Iris said.

Iris and her youngest daughter Chelsea McGrath are sharing their very intimate pain to raise awareness about drugged driving. They want people to see the often unseen victims of the opioid epidemic.

"She had such an amazing life ahead of her," Chelsea said. "I was really excited to see what she was going to do."

Ed was a Harvard-trained economist. A motorcycle enthusiast and a father with a good sense of humor and a strong moral compass.

Brittany was making her way in New York City. She volunteered at an animal shelter and adopted far too many pets with her partner Juan. She fed the homeless, traveled the world and had just passed the bar but would never find out she had. She was killed days before the letter came.

"I think it's very easy to watch a story like this and say, 'Oh, that's so sad' and then just go on with your day," said Chelsea. "I wish I could say, 'Oh, it's so sad and get on with my day,' but I can't.

"It could be your family. It could have been your family just as easily as it was mine. It's scary."

The McGraths understand that the opioid epidemic is a public health crisis, but they say that's not all it is.

"You might have an addiction. It might have taken away everything in your life, but you can't get behind the wheel of a car. You just can't," Chelsea said.

The McGraths are pushing for stricter laws and more severe penalties for drugged driving.

Iris said she always taught her girls to have compassion for people who had fallen down, but that compassion in her own heart is starting to erode.

"It's like... these poor people. These poor people hurt so many other people," she said.

Iris said she's changed in ways she never would have wanted - maybe in ways Brittany wouldn't have wanted - but an addict took half her family, and that's just where she is.

"I'm trying to learn how to live with injustice," she said. "And I'm trying to live a life of honor that keeps Brittany alive.

James Ainsworth pleaded guilty to two counts of motor vehicle homicide and two counts of vehicular manslaughter. He was sentenced to 15 to 20 years in prison. His girlfriend got no jail time and, according to the state, recently finished her period of probation.

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