Photo contributed by John Kirwan
The fight against drunk driving has new meaning for Hermiston city councilor John Kirwan after his mother was killed by an impaired driver just over a week ago.
The call came shortly before 6 p.m. on Nov. 10. Kirwan’s sister told him their mother, Paulette Kirwan, 66, had been involved in a serious crash on Highway 97 outside Klamath Falls, where she lives. Less than half an hour later the Oregon State Police notified the family that Paulette had died at the scene.
“You just don’t think you’re going to get that call,” John said.
According to news station KDRV, the Oregon State Police reported that Austin Haynes, 22, of Chiloquin was traveling southbound in a Dodge Ram pickup when he crossed into the northbound lane and into a blue 1996 Ford Aerostar van driven by Melquiades Ibarra, 57, whom the family described in Paulette’s obituary as her “soulmate” and “longtime partner in life.”
Haynes was not injured and Ibarra sustained some injuries, but Paulette, riding in the front seat of the van, was killed. According to the news station, Haynes showed “signs of impairment” and was lodged in the Klamath County Jail for manslaughter, reckless endangering, third-degree assault and driving while under the influence of intoxicants.
John said his family, including two brothers, two sisters, Paulette’s grandchildren, her twin sister and other members of a large family, were all “taking it pretty rough,” as were his mother’s co-workers and friends.
“All of these people were affected permanently by someone’s decision to get behind the wheel and drive,” he said.
Paulette worked for Klamath and Lake Community Action Services, helping the area’s struggling residents with things like getting their heating bill paid. John said she was a loving, generous person who “would bend over backwards to help anybody.”
The family can’t have a funeral until Dec. 2 because they have to wait for an autopsy that will aid in the criminal investigation into her death. John said it was difficult on the family to not have closure right away.
They’ve also spent time thinking about the consequences of impaired driving.
“People think, I have no way home, I can’t leave my car here, I can’t call someone,” John said, “but I would urge anyone who has had too much to drink to find another way home.”
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.