TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Tampa woman is sharing a critical reminder to the community before Thanksgiving – don’t drink and drive.
Linda Unfried has endured 40 years of heartbreak. Her older sister, Josie DiStefano Palomino, was 41 years old when she was killed by a drunk driver in downtown Tampa.
It’s a loss Unfried will never be able to overcome. She says painful memories are vivid from Josie’s fatal accident in October 1983.
“October 31st was the funeral, and the very next month was Thanksgiving,” said Unfried. “It was the hardest Thanksgiving we’ve been through as a family. You have that empty chair that’s never going to be filled again.”
The tragedy unfolded after a string of family milestones.
Josie just celebrated a birthday and a few days later, she attended a family gathering in honor of their parent’s 55th wedding anniversary.
However, Josie never made it home that night. She was struck and killed by a drunk driver.
“He hit her car at 80 miles per hour,” Unfried said. “Her car flipped three times and she died on the side of the road with a broken neck. It’s a horrible, horrible, tragedy that’s 100 percent preventable.”
Josie’s death prompted Unfried to establish the Hillsborough County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
However, she’s concerned about the dangerous decisions that many people will make in the coming days.
Meanwhile, the bars and restaurants along South Howard Avenue in the SoHo district of South Tampa are already preparing for an influx of customers during the week of Thanksgiving.
SoHo is well known for its nightlife and a portion of the street is expected to close during the late-night hours of the holiday week to accommodate the crowds.
“The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is really busy,” said Jordan Miket, a manager at MacDinton’s Irish Pub. “It’s like a Friday night.”
Miket has been a manager at MacDinton’s for the last five years and ranks Thanksgiving as one of the top 10 most popular holidays for sales.
However, she is a strong advocate for responsible drinking and encourages customers to make safe decisions.
“We’re one of the most popular Uber drop-off locations in Tampa,” Miket said. “Right up there with the airport.”
AAA is reminding the community about its free Tow-to-Go program that will be available from Wednesday, Nov. 11 to Monday, Nov. 27.
The program offers free confidential rides to AAA members and non-members.
If someone calls for assistance, a AAA tow truck will take the vehicle and driver home or to a safe destination for free.
For more information, call 855-2-TOW-2-GO or 855-286-9246 or visit AAA’s website.