SPARTANBURG CO., S.C. (WSPA) – The Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office, Spartanburg County Coroner’s Office and the 7th Circuit Solicitor’s Office held a joint news conference on Thursday to talk about the county’s traffic fatalities this year.
7 News spoke with the family of one of the young victims.
“In the morning–he loved going to school–and hopped into the car and was pretty much asleep in the back of the car, and that’s it,” Trevor Rubenzer said.
“He had his lunch box in his lap and he died that way,” Patti Rubenzer added.
February 8th of 2019, just days before his 12th birthday, Ethan Rubenzer and his mother were involved in a terrible wreck. According to the solicitor’s office, they were hit by a driver who ran a stoplight. Ethan never made it to school that morning.
“We have a son who is not here with us because of an impaired driver,” Trevor Rubenzer said.
Now, this time of year is extremely hard for the Rubenzer family.
“Everything is hard,” Patti Rubenzer said. “You see toys at Christmas and you wonder what would be on his list this year.”
And the Rubenzer family is not the only family hurting from this kind of crime.
“The people that won’t quit drinking and driving, or using drugs, keep doing this, and we keep seeing these terrible accidents and these terrible consequences,” Solicitor Barry Barnette said.
“57 traffic fatalities is way too many for this county. And I’d like for Spartanburg to, at least, think about it when they get behind the wheel of a vehicle,” Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger said.
The coroner told 7 News that impaired and distracted driving have become too common in our county, and he said so have the deaths that follow.
“We have a large number of extremely innocent victims,” Clevenger said. “These are people who have the rest of their lives in front of them and they’re affected by the actions of another person.”
That’s why county leaders and families like the Rubenzers came together to share an important message with the community this holiday season.
“My prayer for Spartanburg County is that we’ll have a bunch of responsible men and women who do go out and have a good time–which we’re not against at all–but we are against when you make a choice that affects other people forever,” Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright said.
“It’s okay to have fun, but the time to make a plan for that is beforehand. You’re not going to make good decisions when you’re out and having fun,” Trevor Rubenzer said. “So, make a plan for a designated driver, make a plan to leave your keys somewhere and Uber–anything you have to do to make a good decision and have fun responsibly.”
The Rubenzer family said these kinds of accidents can be prevented.
“I don’t think that the people who are impaired think that they could hurt themselves or others, but it’s a pain that you can’t take back,” Patti Rubenzer said. “He’s eleven years old forever for us. That’s it. We don’t get to watch him grow up.”
The Rubenzers said they don’t want anyone else to have to feel the pain they’ll be feeling this Christmas.
“We miss him more than anything in this world and we just don’t want any other family to suffer the way that we have, because someone got behind the wheel of a car that shouldn’t have,” Patti Rubenzer said.
The Rubenzers told 7 News Ethan’s legacy lives on because he was an organ donor and, now, his family encourages everyone to consider becoming a donor as well.
The driver accused of hitting Ethan and his mom plead guilty and is now serving a 40-year prison sentence.