KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Pat Cockrill distinctly remembers the knock at the door — 4 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 22, 2010.
“You don’t have to ask why they’re there,” he said, “and after that, you just took a deep breath and knew you had a lot to do.”
With wife Diana Cockrill sitting at a table nearby, Pat Cockrill took another opportunity to tell his story and tragic effects of drunk driving through his own personal nightmare. The Cockrills were featured guests during the Platte County Prosecutor’s Office’s 11th annual Crime Victims’ Rights Week ceremony Thursday, April 21 at the Platte County Resource Center.
Platte County prosecuting attorney Eric Zahnd gave some of the details of Abby Cockrill’s death, killed when John McNamara’s Chevy Camaro SS plowed into the back of the vehicle she rode in that night six years ago. His blood-alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit hours after the crash that killed the Cockrills’ oldest of three daughters, just 22 years at the time.
“The senseless, selfish, conscious act of drinking and driving …,” Pat Cockrill said. “I told myself I wouldn’t get so passionate about that, but to me, it’s what it is. I choose those three words very carefully. It’s a senseless act. It’s a truly selfish act. Bottom line, it is a conscious decision to get in that car and turn that key when you’re drunk.
“Nobody made you do it, and nobody made this person do it that night.”
Many in the audience — friends, law enforcement and public servants — were familiar with the Platte City family’s tragic story.
McNamara owned a prior conviction for driving under the influence while traveling at excess speeds in Clay County. He eventually received 17 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and assault after admitting he had been testing the limits of his car, reaching an estimated speed of 152 miles per hour traveling north on Interstate 29 south of Platte City.
Both Cockrill and the driver of the vehicle she was a passenger in were sober that night. The driver suffered injuries but survived, and her parents came to the luncheon and sat with the Cockrills in support.
“I thought this was going to be a lot easier to do when I was asked to do this,” Pat Cockrill said, “but I’ve always said after this happened it’s our job to do as much as we can so another parent doesn’t have to go through it.
“To this day, it still rips at me.”
Pat Cockrill kept a straight and stern face for much of his seven minutes worth of remarks. He did break down slightly when talking about his daughter’s dedication to teaching and her dream to help children in her career.
At the time of the crash, Abby Cockrill was student teaching with hopes of finishing her degree at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Mo. John Jasinski, the school’s president, helped to change the rules, allowing the Cockrills to collect their daughter’s degree during a graduation ceremony that year.
And not an honorary degree, either.
“She was 18 at 2 years old — curly hair and loud,” Cockrill said. “I say that as an understatement because when she walked into a room you knew it. … She was always the mother of all the kids in the room. All she ever wanted to be was a mother and a teacher, and she worked her tail off to become a teacher.”
The Cockrills also announced preliminary plans to start a foundation in Abby Cockrill’s name to help provide grants to elementary school teachers to buy supplies for their classrooms. The family has annually supplied scholarships to high school graduates in their daughters’ memory, always trying to find a way to keep people from forgetting about her all-too-brief life.
Pat Cockrill closed with the foundation idea before asking Diana if there was anything to add. She declined and later said she allowed her husband to talk because she knew he could get all the way through it.
Previously a breakfast but changed to a lunch event, the Victims’ Rights Week ceremony also included the presentation of the Sara Andrasek Memorial Award, which is given each year to a person or group doing exceptional work to help victims of crime. Zahnd used a ruse to convince Avis Lowe to attend before surprising her with the plaque for this year.
Lowe started volunteering for Mothers Against Drunk Driving after her son was killed in 1995 by a repeat offender. In 2001, she was hired as the victims’ advocate service specialist for the group, working with those in multiple counties in Missouri to navigate the court system after the death of loved ones.
“I am shocked, and I want to think everyone,” Lowe said. “This is my passion; the victims are my passion. I started doing this because we didn’t know anything about the court system, and that’s why I joined MADD, became an advocate and this has been my deal for 15 years.”
The award is named in honor of a Platte County woman who was raped and murdered in 2001 while pregnant with her first child. The prosecution of suspect Wayne Dumond became
Zahnd’s first major case, which he worked on after his election and prior to starting his first term in office more than 13 years earlier.
Dumond died in custody while facing multiple sexual and violent crime charges before Zahnd’s office could bring a death penalty case against the suspect.