FORT CARSON, Colo. — “My son loved the Army — he loved being a soldier — and Fort Carson was his home,” said Nancy Clay, while standing at a podium in McMahon Auditorium July 15, facing her son’s former artillery unit.
“Seventeen months ago, my son was killed in the car you see laying out front,” she said. A flatbed tow truck dragged the mangled mess of twisted automobile parts, military attire and various papers onto the sidewalk outside. Her son died in the car last year, after the vehicle’s drunken driver swerved into an opposing lane.
Nancy Clay provided a two-hour presentation with two of her daughters, Jessica Clay, 22, and Megan Clay, 16. The family shared the life of Spc. Kale Clay, 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, which ended on Highway 115, near Fort Carson.
“Do not be a passenger to an impaired driver” was part of the mission plan that Nancy Clay of Chandler, Ariz., drove hundreds of miles to tell soldiers heading to weekend gatherings. She urged those who drink alcohol to “decide in advance that you will not drive” and “do not let someone leave your presence who is impaired.
“This message is so important that we’ve driven — by the time we get home — about 28 hours, 1,500 miles, for two hours with you,” said Nancy Clay.
“This message is so important that we’ve driven — by the time we get home — about 28 hours, 1,500 miles, for two hours with you.”
Kale Clay, 23, died in the front passenger seat of an Audi A4, wearing his safety belt, during an early-morning collision Feb. 13, 2010, according to proceedings at Fort Carson’s Martinez Courthouse in January. Then Spc. Jordan Peters registered a 0.138 blood alcohol content two hours after swerving his car into an oncoming Ford F350.
Peters, who was assigned to 204th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd BCT, instantly killed his two passengers, Kale Clay and Pfc. Pawel Serafin, both from 3rd Bn., 16th FA Reg., 2nd BCT. He was convicted by a military panel on two counts of involuntary manslaughter, as well as other charges related to his drunken collision.
Explaining her son’s death to his two brothers and five sisters topped Nancy Clay’s list of difficulties. She discussed the moments when she received his personal belongings, planned his funeral and watched him lay in his casket. She’s still learning to live without his frequent calls home, while “wondering who he’d be today.”
“Losing Kale was the hardest thing that could have happened to our family,” said Jessica Clay, who focused her discussions on the crash, trial and funeral. Her mother found a phone number for Designated Driver of Colorado Springs buried in her brother’s bloody wallet, she said.
The nonprofit organization completed 70 rides during that fatal Presidents Day weekend, said founder Nonie Rispin.
“I wish I could have given 71,” said Rispin. “Call our dispatch and tell them you’re military. We make exceptions for you because you protect our way of life. The rides are free.”
Rispin has tallied 10,000 rides since she started the transportation system in January 2009. Most of her volunteer drivers are off-duty Fort Carson Soldiers and 70 percent of her passengers are military.
“It’s not enough to know what to do — you have to be willing to do it,” said Nancy Clay. “We hope and pray the outcome of our time here with you is that somebody will make the decision that saves your life or somebody else’s.”
“Everyone was affected by this,” said Spc. Joseph Finocchioli, referring to the Clays’ presentation. He had attended with Spc. Joshua Word, who stepped on stage to share the incident’s impact within his unit. Both Soldiers served with Kale Clay, prior to their current assignments with 2nd Bn., 77th FA Reg., 4th BCT.Kale Clay demonstrated a great understanding of the Paladin, said Word. The state-of-the-art vehicle is the most technologically advanced self-propelled cannon system used by Soldiers, according to the weapon system’s official Army web page. Clay scored higher than most sergeants during his gunner’s skill test.
“While in formation, you’re always thinking that it won’t happen to me,” said Finocchioli, noting safety briefs end each duty day, and can last more than an hour prior to weekends. “Here it hit hard, like it can really happen to me.”