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The Selfless Way He's Dealing With the Drunk Driving Accident That Changed His Life

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When his family perished in a car accident that left him paralyzed, Jimmy Anderson’s life changed in an instant. But the same tragedy that took so much from him also led him to dedicate his life to preventing others from experiencing that same pain.

It was August 24, 2010, and Anderson was home in Patterson, California, visiting his family between semesters of law school at University of Wisconsin, Madison. Two days before his 24th birthday, he went out for a celebratory dinner with his mother, father and brother.

Jimmy Anderson with his mother, Emma Anderson.
Jimmy Anderson with his father, James, and his younger brother, Andrew.

On the way, a drunk driver who’d gone through a stop sign at 60 mph, crashed into the side of their vehicle.



Anderson was the only person to survive the crash.

“I was trapped in the back of the vehicle, and I can remember banging on things and yelling at [my family], ‘Tell me that you’re OK, tell me that you’re OK,’” Anderson told The Mighty. “There was a lot of blood, and it was very quiet except for the sound of the engine ticking. I remember feeling deep down that I knew they were gone.”

Anderson then passed out from blood loss, and the next thing he remembers is waking up in the hospital with his wife sitting next to him. She had to explain to him that his family didn’t survive the accident and that he was now a quadriplegic.


After six months of intense rehabilitation, Anderson left the hospital and returned to law school in Wisconsin. He says the support from people in his hometown and schoolmates that helped him get through the difficult time. Many people pitched in to help him purchase necessities like his wheelchair, a wheelchair-accessible vehicle and a ramp for the front of his house.

“I was so lucky in that I had some supportive communities behind me after the accident,” Anderson told The Mighty. “Not everybody has that.”

Anderson with his wife, Ashley.

In 2012, Anderson graduated from law school and began working at the Department of Justice in Wisconsin. Although he enjoyed his work, he soon realized that there was something else he wanted to do.

“I needed to do something to bring attention to the problem of drunk driving,” Anderson told The Mighty. “Being a lawyer has been great for my mind, but I needed to do something for my soul. I have a story, and I knew I could use my story to make a difference.”

Anderson and some colleagues launched a nonprofit called Drive Clear, an organization that provides a way for the victims of drunk driving to raise the funds they need for medical expenses, disability resources and other financial obligations.

Drive Clear hosts “Recovery Campaigns” — individualized fundraisers for victims that help free them from financial stresses while they focus on recovering. The nonprofit also works with BACtrack, a company that makes breathalyzers, to put these tools in the hands of as many people as possible. That way, people can ensure they are safe to get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol.

“I don’t want my parents to have passed away in vain,” he told The Mighty. “And I know they wouldn’t want anybody else to have to go through what I went through. They’d be really proud of the fact that I started this and that it’s in their memory.”

Recently, Anderson was speaking at a high school event about the harmful effects of drunk driving when a young woman asked him a question. She wondered if he blamed the man responsible for the accident that took his family and his ability to walk five years ago.

“I was surprised by my reaction,” Anderson told The Mighty. “I told her we’re all responsible for the actions that we take, but I also feel sympathy for him. I don’t know his circumstances, I don’t know what made him drive drunk that day. I could get hung up on anger and hatred, but I doubt wherever he is now that he’s proud of what he did. I bet he would take it back if he could because you never want your memory or your last act to be what that guy did. I’m trying to provide people with the tools to prevent that.”

Drive Clear is a volunteer run site where 100 percent of the donations go to the cause. To donate to Drive Clear, go here

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Originally published: May 14, 2015
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