Lancaster man honors grandmother killed in DUI crash by becoming Uber driver

By on January 11, 2017

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Mitch Kepiro never met his maternal grandmother.

A drunken driver killed Barbara Rickenbach, of Ephrata, a decade before he was born.

In her honor he became an Uber driver several weeks ago after hearing the company was looking for drivers.

“It’s what Uber is: being able to provide rides for anyone who wants to get themselves home safely and also doesn’t want to endanger anyone else,” Kepiro, 25, Lancaster, said.

“It’s a way to pay it forward,” said Kepiro.

To be sure, driving supplements his income as a manager at the Bath & Body Works at Tanger Outlets. But when his mother, Ephrata graduate Deb Kepiro, heard him talking about honoring his grandmother, “I was truly floored,” she said.

“I think now there’s an opportunity for us to spread the word: We’re in DUI season — well, it’s always DUI season,” Deb Kepiro said Saturday.

Rickenbach was killed on Sept. 1, 1981. She was 38.

A 17-year-old heading south on Fruitville Pike near Chowning Place crossed the into the northbound lane and slammed into the car Rickenbach was a passenger in.

Injured in the crash were Deb Kepiro’s sister, Denise Zimmerman, also an Ephrata graduate, who was driving, and two other passengers. They were returning from a church meeting.

The teenager, who had a breath test indicating a 0.13 percent blood alcohol level, was sentenced to 200 hours of community service and ordered to undergo rehabilitation, Deb Kepiro said.

She relayed a message from Zimmerman, who said she’s proud of her nephew and warned that it only takes the first instance of drunken driving to destroy a family.

Deb Kepiro said she’s “incredibly proud to have (my mother’s) legacy continued and honored.”

She even gave Mitch some vomit bags to keep in his car. They’d been left over from her late father’s cancer treatments.

So far, none of Mitch Kepiro’s passengers have had to use them in his silver 2007 Volkwagen Jetta.

Ride service as designated driver

Mitch Kepiro estimates about three-quarters of his roughly 50 customers are people who were out drinking and intentionally used the ride-hailing service to avoid drinking and driving.

They range in age from 20s to 50s, he estimated.

He doesn’t ask if they’ve been out drinking, but almost everyone who’s been has made note of it and thanked him. Some also note that the service means they don’t need a designated driver.

The remainder of his customers, he said, are people commuting or needing to get somewhere. Fitting for Lancaster County, his first passenger was an Amish man.

Mitch Kepiro said he enjoys the social aspect of the job as well as knowing he’s helping keep passengers and other motorists safe.

An Uber spokesman said the service empowers people to make smart choices.

“We’ve seen that when people have a reliable alternative to get home safe, they choose not to drink and drive,” the ride hailing service said in a statement.

Uber has partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving in an anti-drunken driving campaign called #LeaveTheKeys.

Driving under the influence statistics

  • 10,265 people, or one person every 51 minutes, died in a drunken driving crash in 2015. 290,000 people were hurt.
  • 26-to 29-year-olds account for the highest percentage of drunk drivers at 20.7.
  • In fatal crashes in 2014, the highest percentage of drunk drivers was for drivers 21-24 at 30 percent, followed by 25-34 at 29 percent and 35-44 at 24 percent.
  • 88 percent of people 21 and older agree that Uber has made it easier to avoid driving after drinking.
  • 57 percent of people who services such as Uber agree that without them, they’d probably drive after drinking more often.

Sources: Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and Uber

Dan Nephin is a staff writer at LNP.

 

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