Fox 4 is shining a spotlight on the non-profit Mothers Against Drunk Driving ahead of their biggest fundraiser of the year, their "Walk Like MADD" 5K & 10K happening virtually this weekend.
Linda Beni has become an advocate against drinking and driving since December of 2016, when her daughter Brittany, 21, was killed in a hit-and-run crash. In the time since her death, Beni went from a broken mother, to a warrior who fights to keep other families from feeling her same pain.
"At 2:07 AM on December 5th, Brittany was killed instantly," Beni said. It's a date and time she will never forget.
The crash in Port Charlotte killed Brittany and her friend Wesley Chery, 21. DNA evidence on the airbag of the car connected Michel Brutus to the crime almot ten months later. Investigators say Brutus made it look as though Brittany and Wesley were the only people in the car, before fleeing the scene. Brutus was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Brutus's conviction meant justice, but of course, it couldn't bring Brittany and Wesley back.
Now Beni is getting ready to honor Brittany during the "Walk Like MADD" 5K event this weekend. She said after her daughter's passing, MADD approached her and asked her to get involved.
"I went to a meeting at their office in Fort Myers, and I walked in the door and I was like, 'Wow, this is where I need to be.' They were so warm. That was back in the days of hugging, so they all hugged me welcomed me," she said.
When they told her about the annual "Walk Like MADD 5K," Beni said it was the perfect way to celebrate and remember her daughter.'
"I said, 'Oh, I'm doing it.' Brittany was diabetic, and we always did walks every year for the American Diabetes Association. She, of course, won. We're very competitive family, and she won every year. That was dear to our heart, so I was like, well, this is something I could do in her memory," Beni said.
Every year, she walks with her team to honor Brittany, but also to give back to the organization that's given her so much.
"Every month I went to court for the hearings, somebody would come. They were part of some of birthday celebrations that we did, and some of her the anniversary of the accident, and just and just reaching out, just if I needed somebody to talk to," she said.
Through MADD, Beni also speaks to DUI offenders at Victim Impact Panels.
"When I told my story, they just sat there and they cried. They were like, 'You really made a difference. We don't want to drink anymore. We don't realize the hurt that we can cause somebody,'” she said.
Beni said she's not quite ready to forgive the man who took her daughter's life and walked away. She misses Brittany every moment of every day. But with the support of MADD, she's been able to turn this tragedy around to help others.
"I always say MADD brought me back from a dark side that I was in. It's the best thing that probably could have happened to me with this tragedy," Beni said.
MADD can't help people like Linda Beni without your help. Their "Walk Like MADD" 5K & 10K is happening virtually this weekend, so you can take part by registering and doing the event anywhere you want. Beni and her team, "Love for Brittany Lynn" will be walking the Punta Gorda bridge on Saturday.
To register or donate, click here.