Gancarz has spent 25 years advocating for victims of drunk driving

March 6, 2013

By Rob Alway

LUDINGTON — Deanne Gancarz has probably clocked more time in the 79th District Court than most. For the past 25 years, the Fountain area resident has been a courtroom observer representing Mothers Against Drunk Driving of Mason County.

Gancarz is present for a majority of the district court proceedings. She keeps track of most of the sentences in a wired notebook. When victims of drinking and driving are involved, she often will accompany them, serving as an advocate.

“Deanne has been in this courtroom longer than I have,” 79th District Court Judge Peter Wadel said.

Deanne, a former librarian and teacher, is one of the founders of the local MADD chapter. She is responsible for organizing the quarterly Victim’s Impact Panel that takes place in the courtroom in January, April, July and October of each year. Most drinking and driving offenders are ordered to attend the meeting which typically includes speakers who have experienced and/or witnessed the effects of drinking and driving. These speakers are often victims and representatives from law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office.

Deanne said she got involved after her daughter was involved in a car crash in 1987.

“She was driving and her boyfriend was a passenger. They were talking about their wedding plans,” Deanne said. “A truck, driven by an intoxicated driver, pulled out, not stopping for the stop sign. My daughter’s boyfriend died the next day from a head injury.”

The next year, Gancarz and Marguerite Olmstead formed MADD of Mason County.

Deanne said since 1988 she has seen a change in the public’s perception of drinking and driving; the laws have also changed.

“I think we have made an impact, along with many other agencies. The legislature has enhanced the penalties of drinking and driving. The number of crashes have been reduced nationwide but they still happen.”

While she was still working at Mason County Central Schools, Deanne would attend court in the summers. Since retiring in 1998 she tries to attend weekly.

“Deanne plays a huge role in our OWI (operating while intoxicated) cases,” Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola said. “She devotes many hours each week to observe court proceedings, meet with victims, and help them navigate the legal system. She assists them in making restitution requests and lets the victims know that they are not alone. The Victim’s Impact Panels she presents serve to educate offenders and reduce the number of repeat drunk drivers in our county. She is an invaluable resource to the citizens of Mason and Manistee counties.”

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