Parents of 3-month-old killed by suspected drunk driver share powerful message

(Courtesy of Tori Willet)

It's been two weeks since a horrific crash in Waldorf took the life of a 3-month-old baby. Maryland State Police have said a suspected drunk driver arrested in connection to the crash could face charges of vehicular homicide or manslaughter by automobile.

Now, we're hearing from the child's heartbroken parents — and their message is a powerful one.

"We were pulling up to a stoplight, and I looked in my rearview mirror and saw the 26-foot Penske truck just coming — no brakes applied or anything — and by that time, it was too late for me to do anything," said Tori Willett, who was behind the wheel of her family’s vehicle when the Penske truck hit them from behind.

Willett said her son, Ethan Ruefly, suffered brain damage in the collision that followed.

"It completely knocked him out," said Willett, wiping away tears. "He was brain dead, from the impact."

Ethan was rushed to the hospital, but the family knew he was in bad shape. Three days later, Willett and Ethan's father, Jonathan Ruefly, made the difficult decision to take their son off life support and say goodbye.

"That was probably the hardest day of my life. To make that kind of decision, no parent should ever have to do that," Willett said. "I wouldn't wish that on anybody."

Ruefly said he will never forget the sound of the box truck slamming into his family's Jeep Wrangler. He's also haunted by the moment he realized the driver that had hit them likely under the influence.

"Yeah, I saw him get out of the truck and he kinda stumbled down the steps. And I saw beer cans fall out and he was kicking them underneath the truck, and that's when I knew," Ruefly said.

Maryland State Police have said the Penske driver, 49-year-old Michael Maurice Ford, had alcohol on his breath and failed a field sobriety test. He was arrested on the scene, but has since been released as the investigation continues.

Police say the investigation into the crash could take about two months to complete.

Investigators will then turn their findings over to the Charles County State’s Attorney’s Office, who will ultimately decide whether charges should be filed.

It's something Willett and Ruefly have thought about often, in the days since their son's death.

"I mean, we were just starting our family, we never thought our child would be gone before us," Willett said. "I thought I avoided drunk drivers by keeping him home at night, but we were on the road at 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon, and a drunk driver killed our child."

The couple says their pain is their motivation to speak out. They want to share Ethan's story with anyone who will listen.

"We just hope other people see this story and think twice before drinking and driving," Willett said. "Think about Ethan. Think about your own children or your nieces or nephews. This could happen to anyone."

It's a message that they hope will save lives.

"If we can just help one family or prevent one person from drinking and driving, if we save one, we have done something," Ruefly said.

In lieu of flowers at Ethan's memorial service, the family also asked that donations be made to MADD at 511 E. John Carpenter Freeway, Irving, TX 75062 or Johns Hopkins Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center Fund (make checks payable to "Johns Hopkins Medicine") at 600 N. Wolfe Street, Carnegie 424, Baltimore, MD 21287.

Willett and Ruefly felt that encouraging support for those two worthy causes was a fitting way to honor Ethan's memory.

They also want to thank community members, friends, and even strangers who've donated to a GoFundMe Page that's been set up to help the family pay for medical bills, funeral expenses, lost wages, and attorney fees.

“We’re just so grateful, people we don’t even know have donated,” said Willett. “It shows there are still good people in this world.”

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