Thanksgiving Eve is notoriously known as a party night, nicknamed “Drunksgiving.”
As many are celebrating with family and friends for the holiday, a Reddington Shores man is sharing his emotional story with hopes it will stop people from drinking and getting behind the wheel.
A picture of John Martins' parents and sister-in-law still sit on the table they last sat around singing on Christmas Eve.
“"We all gathered here," he recalls. "My mom and dad sat in these chairs. I play the guitar, so as one of our traditions my mom is always pushing for us to sing 'Silent Night.' It must have about 12:30 p.m. and they were tired.
"We said goodbye and really 10 minutes later they were gone. They were just gone.
His parents, Joao and Arminda Martins, married for 63 years, and his sister-in-law, Isabel Martins, were hit and killed by a drunk driver in a wrong way crash on their way home.
It happened at the intersection of 131st Street North and Park Blvd in Reddington Shores.
Their drive was less than five minutes, and in that moment years of memories were gone.
“The graduations were a big thing. We had this tradition when they graduate -- they take off their cap, sign it, give it to grandpa. The dream was to get five grandkids through college. He saw four and we have one more to go in May.” Martins said.
Paul Pulkownik, 53, pleaded guilty to three counts of DUI manslaughter in September 2016. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison.
Police say the married father of two’s blood alcohol level was four times the legal limit. He had no criminal record before the wrong-way fatal crash.
“Lives are ruined," Martins said. "You’re never the same. Even the person who was the drunk driver, his family is devastated.”
The crash left Martins’ two nephews without a mom. Their dad died a couple years earlier. Martins and his wife immediately became parents of five when they took in his two nephews as their own.
Three years a later, a cross still marks the spot where the crash happened. A permanent reminder of a bad decision that could have been avoided.
“To me, there’s just so many other options. There’s Uber, there’s designated drivers, there are taxis. There are too many options to let something like this ever happen,” Martins said
According to statistics reported by The West Central Florida Chapter of Mothe’s Against Drunk Driving, the Tampa Bay area leads the state in the number ofalcohol-relatedd fatalities. In 2016, 57 people were killed in Hillsborough and 37 people were killed in Pinellas.
Typically, impaired driving related fatalities in our area are twice that of Dade County.
On average, over 300 people a month are arrested in just Hillsborough County for DUI.