CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – The Christmas season has not been the same for Abby Eberwein and her family since the tragic 2018 death of her 6-month-old daughter, Sophie Grace Leon-Friesenhahn.
The infant was killed in a crash in Clay County as her family was heading home from getting pictures with Santa just one week before Christmas in 2018. The crash also injured Eberwein and two others in the car.
Randy Teal Jr., 33, pleaded guilty Aug. 9 to DUI manslaughter and DUI serious injury and was later sentenced to 14 years in prison for his role in the crash.
Teal was driving home from a Jaguars game on Dec. 16, 2018, when, according to an arrest warrant affidavit, his Jeep struck the rear of a vehicle stopped in traffic on Blanding Boulevard in Orange Park, causing a chain reaction crash.
“I can’t even, like, put into words just how hard it was, for me, my family,” Eberwein told News4JAX on Friday. “We still celebrated Christmas, but we left Sophie’s presents out under the tree and everything and then just seeing them just broke us.”
Eberwein said the sentencing of Teal provided some amount of closure, but the family will never be the same.
“I’m never going to 100% heal, but it’s every day is a tiny bit easier for us,” Eberwein said. “It’s still very, very difficult for us to deal with it, but leaving the room knowing she had that Justice made it a little bit easier.”
In 2020, Florida saw 746 deaths from crashes involving alcohol, drugs or both, according to the latest data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. So far in 2021, 587 people have died.
The Ad Council and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are again issuing a word of warning with “Project Roadblock.”
The campaign has been ongoing for the past 18 years, specifically focused in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve when holiday drinking is at its peak.
For Eberwein and her family, though, the warning is personal and constant.
“Just don’t drink and drive even if you think you’re okay, you’re not,” Eberwein said. “Because [Teal] thought he was OK, and here we are, having lost my daughter. So just don’t drink and drive.”
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 40% of traffic deaths during the holidays involve a driver who is impaired by alcohol, compared to 28% for the rest of the year.