CLAY COUNTY, Florida. – The Christmas season has not been the same for Abby Eberwein and her family since the tragic death in 2018 of her 6-month-old daughter, Sophie Grace Leon-Friesenhahn.
The baby was killed in a crash in Clay County as her family returned home after taking photos with Santa a week before Christmas in 2018. The crash also injured Eberwein and two others in the car .
Randy Teal Jr., 33, pleaded guilty on August 9 to manslaughter and serious bodily harm to impaired driving and was later sentenced to 14 years in prison for his role in the crash.
Teal was on his way home from a Jaguars game on December 16, 2018, when, according to an arrest warrant affidavit, his Jeep struck the back of a stopped vehicle in traffic on Blanding Boulevard in Orange Park, causing an accident in chain.
“I can’t even, like, express how difficult it was, for me, my family,” Eberwein told News4JAX on Friday. “We’ve always celebrated Christmas, but we left Sophie’s presents under the tree and everything and then seeing them broke us.”
Eberwein said Teal’s sentencing provided some closure, but the family will never be the same again.
“I will never heal 100%, but it is a little easier for us every day,” said Eberwein. “It’s still very, very difficult for us to deal with this, but leaving the room knowing that she had Justice made it a little easier.”
In 2020, Florida recorded 746 fatalities from crashes involving alcohol, drugs, or both, according to the latest data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. So far in 2021, 587 people have died.
The Advertising Council and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are issuing a warning word again with “Project Roadblock.”
The campaign has been running for 18 years, specifically focusing on the week between Christmas and New Years Eve, when holiday alcohol consumption is at its peak.
For Eberwein and his family, however, the warning is personal and constant.
“Just don’t drink and drive even if you think you are doing well, you are not,” said Eberwein. “Because [Teal] thought he was fine, and here we are, having lost my daughter. So don’t drink while driving.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 40% of road fatalities while on vacation involve an alcohol-impaired driver, up from 28% the rest of the year.
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