What to Know
- Liam was 15 months old when he was struck by a drunken driver in Hawthorne in 2016. The driver kept going, witnesses said.
- His parents have kept his legacy going, trying to change laws around blood alcohol level.
- The driver was sentenced to prison time after pleading guilty.
The Hawthorne parents of 15-month-old Liam were holding a moment of silence Tuesday on the second year anniversary of his death at the site where the toddler was struck by a drunken driver as his aunt pushed him in a stroller, which ultimately led to his death.
MMA fighter Marcus Kowal and his wife, Mishel Elder, have been working to end drunken driving deaths ever since the day their lives changed forever two years ago.
"It's been two years. You can't go back, and you can't change what happened. So all we can do is make sure that change will come because of what happened," Kowal said Tuesday after holding the moment of silence.
On Sept. 3, 2016, Liam's 15-year-old aunt was pushing him in a stroller inside a crosswalk in Hawthorne when they were hit by an SUV. The 72-year-old driver, Donna Marie Higgins, did not stop, police said. Witnesses followed her and stopped her from running until police arrived.
Liam sustained internal injuries as a result of the crash, and he was pronounced brain dead. His parents made the unbearable decision to take Liam off life support. They also donated his organs.
Higgins was charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, hit-and-run-driving and two DUI counts. She pleaded guilty for the DUI hit-and-run death of Liam and entered a plea for the one felony count of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. Higgins was immediately sentenced to six years in state prison.
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Kowal and his wife have since been trying to change the drinking culture in the U.S., saying that in his home country of Sweden, DUI's are taken much more seriously.
"I grew up in a society where drinking and driving was very looked down on," Kowal said in a previous interview with NBC4. "Here in the U.S. it is very common; many people have one, sometimes two, three, four DUI's."
He and his wife have workd on a soon-to-be released documentary called "Letters to Liam" as they aim to end drunken driving.
"Our fight is not with the alcohol industry; it is just about not getting behind the wheel when you've been drinking," Kowal said.
The couple previously met with Gavin Newsom's chief-of-staff to help them navigate the legislative process as they try to draft a bill to lower the legal blood alcohol content in the United States from 0.08 percent to 0.04 percent.
Their goal is to eventually lower the legal blood alcohol content to 0.02 percent, like in Sweden. Sweden is the country with the second-fewest road traffic deaths, with a rate of 2.8 deaths per 100,000 people in 2015, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization.
In 2012, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System reported that 31 percent of road traffic deaths in the United States involved alcohol. Meanwhile, the Swedish Transport Administration reported 19 percent of road traffic deaths involved alcohol in Sweden in 2013.
Since the death of their first-born, Kowal and his wife have welcomed a new son named Nico, who turned 1 year old.
All three were present Tuesday during the moment of silence for Liam at the area of 133rd and Hawthorne Boulevard, where the crash occurred.
When asked if Kowal would say anything to anyone considering getting behind the wheel after they've had a drink, he said to think of Liam.
"If you're not sure, take a look at my son's face," Kowal said. "Take a look at that innocent face and re-think getting behind that wheel."
For more information on the family's petition or Liam's story, visit LiamsLife.org.