Heroes Among Us

A Shattering Loss—And a Mission

UPDATED 10/15/2007 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 10/15/2007 at 01:00 AM EDT

Bob and Carmen Pack
Founders, Troy and Alana Pack Foundation

On the night of Oct. 28, 2003, lying in their bedroom in the dark, Bob and Carmen Pack wondered whether life was worth living. Just 48 hours earlier, Carmen and the kids, Troy, 10, and Alana, 7, stepped out of their Danville, Calif., home to go for a walk and get ice cream. Out of nowhere, a car with a drunk driver at the wheel slammed onto the sidewalk, killing both children. Now, Carmen listened as Bob's anguish poured out. "I feel like life is over," he said, crying. "Maybe we should end it and join Alana and Troy in heaven." Carmen hugged her husband. "It's against God's will," she told him. "We will be with them someday, but not this way."

The couple found the will to go on, and with it, a reason to: preventing tragedies like their own by fighting drunk driving, which causes an estimated 17,000 deaths a year. Through their Troy and Alana Pack Foundation (www.troyandalana.org), founded in 2004, they've successfully lobbied to toughen California's DUI laws and raised $250,000 to fund scholarships, traffic-safety programs and an educational DVD that will go out to high schools across the country later this year. The 20-min. film, portions of which can be seen on YouTube, features former Prison Break actor Lane Garrison, who is currently awaiting sentencing for vehicular manslaughter after a Dec. 2, 2006, accident in which Garrison's 17-year-old passenger was killed. The Packs "have gone to hell and back and they don't want anyone to repeat what they went through," says California state senator Tom Torlakson, who cosponsored two anti-DUI bills he says wouldn't have passed without the Packs' involvement.

For 10 years, involvement, for the Packs meant PTA and soccer practice. "Weekends were nonstop," says Bob, 49, a soft-spoken Internet executive who had given up a lucrative job earlier in 2003 to spend more time with his family. Those plans were destroyed that October night, when Carmen, flanked by Troy on his scooter and Alana on her bicycle, turned onto Camino Tassajara road. "I saw a car veering toward us—there was a terrible noise," Carmen recalls. Troy and Alana were struck head on. Alana was killed instantly. Within hours, Troy died at Children's Hospital of Oakland.

Grief gave way to anger when, two days after the crash, police arrested Jimena Barreto, a 49-year-old woman who had three previous DUI convictions and was driving with a suspended license. (Investigators later learned she had taken Vicodin and was drinking before the crash.) Initially charging Barreto with gross vehicular manslaughter, the prosecutor "did a 180," Bob says, after he and Carmen rallied 700 supporters urging a more serious charge. In 2005 Barreto was convicted on two counts of second-degree murder and sentenced to 30 years to life. Determined to stop drivers like her, the Packs pleaded with legislators to pass two bills—one toughening sentences for repeat offenders and another closing a loophole drivers used to get their licenses back early—which became law in 2005.

Even as they continue their campaign, the Packs have been rebuilding their lives. A few months after the accident, they made a momentous decision—to try to have another child. "It was something we both wanted," says Carmen, 47, a former model from Peru, who turned to her then 20-year-old niece for donated eggs. In June 2006 Noelle, now a playful 16-month-old, was born. Once more, the Packs' house is strewn with toys and filled with laughter. "Noelle is our perfect miracle," Carmen says. At bedtime, she sings the same Spanish lullabies she once sang for Troy and Alana. "I still grieve," she says, watching Noelle take baby steps across the floor. "But not with the desperation I once felt."

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