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Son's death inspires designated driver campaign

By Lynda Love Highlander, CNN
updated 3:18 PM EDT, Thu April 4, 2013
John Elliott, second from right, poses with his parents and sister at his Naval Academy graduation.
John Elliott, second from right, poses with his parents and sister at his Naval Academy graduation.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bill and Muriel Elliott started a campaign to honor their son, killed by a drunk driver
  • The HERO Campaign hopes to persuade more people to use designated drivers
  • The HERO Campaign is in seven states and partners with law enforcement, schools, bars
  • CDC: Nearly a third of all U.S. traffic-related deaths in 2010 were alcohol related

Editor's note: Impact Your World is a CNN initiative that selects stories of people in need and gives you an opportunity to help. The Ensign John R. Elliott HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers is dedicated to supplying sober drivers to keep the roads safe.

(CNN) -- In July 2000, Bill Elliott and his wife, Muriel, were woken up by a knock on the door at 4 a.m.

"I heard the knocking and I thought, 'Oh my God, my son is dead.' I just knew. And then I heard (Muriel) scream and that nightmare became a reality," says Bill.

Nearly a third of all U.S. traffic-related deaths in 2010 -- more than 10,000 people -- involved alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

John Elliott receives his diploma from the United States Naval Academy.
John Elliott receives his diploma from the United States Naval Academy.

Their son, John, was killed by a drunk driver while driving home to celebrate his mother's birthday.

A few months later, Bill and Muriel Elliott started an organization to keep people from getting behind the wheel drunk.

Called the Ensign John R. Elliott HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers, the goal of the organization is to register a million designated drivers.

The name comes from John's experience at the Naval Academy. During his senior year, John was selected by his peers to be a HERO (human education resource officer.) "They saw him as a great leader who made them laugh and saw the humor and the positive in everything," says Bill.

The Elliotts wanted to carry that theme into the campaign. "Out of our heartbreak, we wanted to do something to honor our son, and that was an expression of his positive nature," says Bill. "John represents all victims and all the people whose lives we are trying to save, and I think he would've liked that."

The HERO Campaign is active in seven states.
The HERO Campaign is active in seven states.

The HERO Campaign message is simple: Be a HERO. Be a designated driver. Bill says the group has "a serious mission and a serious goal which can be achieved by people doing the right thing and appealing to the HERO in everybody.

The HERO campaign is active in seven states and partners with law enforcement, schools and local businesses.

Billboards, decals and magnets are used to get the message out.

"People see the billboard, they see sticker on the car, they go into a bar and they see the poster on the wall, and they're going to say, 'What is this HERO campaign?' "

It's a simple reminder, says Bill: "Who's your driver tonight? Who's your HERO tonight?"

The HERO Walk in Ocean City, New Jersey, raises awareness of the need for designated drivers.
The HERO Walk in Ocean City, New Jersey, raises awareness of the need for designated drivers.

The group holds annual events like the HERO Walk and the HERO Golf Tournament. Last year over 2,000 people walked on the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey, to show their support.

"It's really something that's captured the support of the community, because everybody has the same reaction when I talk about that knock on the door. That is the knock you never want to get," says Bill.

The Elliotts hope that because of their message, other families will be spared from hearing that knock on the door at 4 a.m.

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