Sparta family turning its tragedy into hope for others

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:51

    SPARTA-It was a cool and bright early spring day. Easter Day. Change and renewal was in the air. For Daniel Patrick O'Brien and his friend, Steven P. Bieganousky, it was their last day of life. Both young men died in a car accident almost across from the elementary school. Alcohol was at the center of the accident. With hopes of turning that tragic event into a positive effort, the O'Brien family and friends have started a non-profit organization they have called the DOB Project. The program's goal is to enlist the help of area bars and restaurants in the fight to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the roads. Participating establishments are asked to encourage patrons to designate a safe driver by offering free non-alcoholic drinks to the selected driver. Designated drivers are given purple and black DOB (Designated Operation Bands) wristbands. "It's human nature to want a reward for doing good and honorable things. Why can't a restaurant owner reward the person with soda for making a good, sound decision in being the designated driver for the evening?" said Deborah O'Brien, Dan's mother. This is such a personal issue for the O'Brien family that even the colors of the bands, black and purple, have a significant meaning. "Purple was chosen because while Dan was on life support for the five days before he died, one of his friend's mothers brought purple ribbons to the hospital for all of us to wear, signifying hope. Black was the color (or absence of color) we chose because Dan liked it. He enjoyed the classy, retro style that black affords. He was such a classy guy," said Christine O'Brien-Mase, president of the DOB Project and Dan's sister. Although the project is still in its beginning stages, several area restaurants have already signed up to help, including The Mohawk House restaurant, and The Homestead. The Sussex County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and the Sparta Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 26 also are supporting the DOB Project. "The DOB Project has taken on its own identity. It's like we've tapped into a need and it's literally flying. The community has been so receptive to it and helpful. We are trying to outreach everywhere because it's been an emotional 16 weeks since the accident. A lot of Dan's friends are turning 21 this year, so it was even more incentive for us to get this project started," said Christine. The O'Briens kicked off the program on Saturday, July 23, with a gathering at the Mohawk House restaurant. The event attracted many local community leaders including Sparta Mayor Ailish Hambel. "Losing Danny was earth shattering, soul changing … I have to live with this the rest of my life. I have to go to bed every day knowing my baby is no longer here," said Deborah. "If we can save one person, I will go to my grave knowing I've accomplished something in this life." For the DOB project organizers, Saturday's gathering was only the beginning of a larger effort. "We hope the DOB Project eventually grows into a county or statewide program," said Jeff Mase, DOB Project's vice president and Christine's husband. "The 17,000 alcohol related, traffic deaths per year, are 100 percent preventable and it's almost as though we accept this gross number each year. If we can potentially save one person, we've done something." Many of the people involved acknowledged that the DOB Project will not only help to reduce fatalities but also help a Sparta family heal. "Our whole family is still mourning and just raw on emotion. This tragedy can be turned into a positive for others," said Jeff Mase. "Plus working on this program has been like therapy for all of us." "(My parents) are good and giving people who want to turn our loss into something good," said Christine. "It'll be a couple of years before we're doing okay. It's been so painful; to do something about it is helping us heal."