Accident survivor is on mission to end drunk driving

Panama City Beach

PANAMA CITY BEACH Fla. (WMBB) — Almost four months ago, one of our own reporter’s life changed in just a matter of seconds. 

Tess Rowland was on her way to work when she was involved in a head-on collision. The other driver was allegedly intoxicated. 

She’s still recovering from her injuries. She broke five bones and endured major surgeries. Her life turned upside down.

“Now I’m in PT five days a week working to do things that a lot of people take for granted,” Rowland said. 

But she isn’t shutting down and giving up. Instead she’s on a mission to stop drunk driving.

Thursday, she went before Panama City Beach council members, hoping to enlist their help.

Step one is partnering with White’s Wrecker Service. The owners, Bubba White and Hassie White Claghorn, have a personal connection to Rowland’s story.

They’ve had a program in place for 40 years offering drinking drivers a free tow home, on New Year’s Eve. 

“We want to extend that out to year round service to keep people off the road especially the young teenagers that are drinking and driving,” White said. 

Rowland said this ensures that if you call White’s Wrecker Service while under the influence they will make sure you get a safe ride home, no questions asked.

Step two of Rowland’s plan is securing a state DOT grant that would help the Panama City Beach Police Department form a DUI task force. 

“Panama City Beach has participated in this grant in the past,” Rowland said. “So essentially what it does is it pays overtime for police officers.”

The beach council was fully behind her proposal, showing an outpour of support. 

She hopes she can be a voice for others and advocate to make Bay County roads safer. 

“You know this crime could impact anyone at any time, it doesn’t really choose its victims,” Rowland said. “I know I never thought that I would be in this position but I’m really glad to have their support.”

Rowland said she couldn’t have gotten through her recovery without support from the panhandle community.

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