Mom of teen who died in drunk driving crash reaching out to educate others

MATTAWAN, Mich. — Melinda Rambow will never forget the morning of October 15, 2015. She’d been up since 8:30am, calling hospitals and police stations looking for her 15-year-old son Andrew. He hadn’t come home from a night out with friends. Then, the Van Buren County coroner’s office called.

They asked her to come to the morgue and identify the body they believed to be her son.

“Andy sitting, laying there is something that I can’t ever get out of my mind,” said Rambow, crying during an interview in her front yard. “It took me 10 months to go to the crash site.”

Deputies told her that day that her son along with two friends — Hunter LaRose and Brandon VanWalbeck — were killed in a car crash in Porter Township. The car veered of 98th avenue near 28th and half street and hit a tree. The car flipped over several times.

“He was speeding around the curves,” said Rambow. “He hit the tree in the middle which then sent the car out of control and into another tree, which then killed Brandon. Then sent the car flipping, which took the roof off and it hit the kids.”

Rambow said it had been hours before the kids were found. Residents in the area heard a scream, she said, but they didn’t do anything. Deputies told her the crash happened between 1am and 4am.

“The time of death of our kids is 3:11 a.m.,” said Rambow remembering what deputies said at the time. “But at 3:22 a.m. Brandon posted a check on Facebook.”

She believes Brandon was not only speeding and driving distracted but alcohol was involved. She said he had been drinking earlier that night.

“I don’t understand why Brandon wasn’t held accountable or even mentioned the drinking,” said Rambow. “I mean .175 is a very high alcohol level.”

The police report stated that Brandon's blood alcohol content level was twice the legal limit. Rambow said the night before the crash VanWelbeck promised her he’d never drink and drive with Andy in the car.

“He grabs my hand and he says to me ‘Mindy I think of you as family and I promise even if I’ve had one beer I’ll never have your kids, the twins or your son in the car with me while I’m driving',” said Rambow. Hunter has a twin sister.

Andy’s death tore the family apart she said. Her 6-year-old daughter, Andy’s sister whom he taught how to walk at 7 months old, went through depression after his death. She missed months of school and is starting a year behind this year. Rambow said she’s doing much better but she, like everyone in her family, misses Andy.

“It’s been the hardest year of my life,” said Rambow. “I don’t know how I’ve made it this far. I’ve got a lot of anger and a lot of guilt. It’s a situation that I wouldn’t wish on anybody.”

Recently, Rambow said she’s been reaching out to local schools. She wants to share her story with middle-schoolers and high school students to educate them about the dangers of drunk driving. Her main message: Don’t drink and drive.

“Try to put yourself in their shoes when you decide to get behind that wheel and ask yourself if another drunk driver kills my family member how am I going to feel about that?” said Rambow. “Because chances are the way you would feel about that is exactly how the family is going to feel.”

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