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Victorians erect sign to honor crash victim, urge drivers to stay sober

By Jessica Priest
Sept. 25, 2013 at 4:25 a.m.
Updated Sept. 26, 2013 at 4:26 a.m.

Co-workers of Dr. Joseph Long, of Victoria, raised money to post a sign in memory of his wife, Paula Nersesian, who died car wreck  May 17. The sign is near the intersection of Mockingbird Lane and Main Street.

on the road

There were 1,213 driving while under the influence fatalities in Texas in 2011.

SOURCE: MOTHERS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING

A police officer knocked on Dr. Joseph Long's door at 10:30 p.m. May 17.

Long's wife, Paula Nersesian, wasn't home yet, but until that point, he did not worry.

She was likely wrapped up in her latest scrap booking project. She probably lost track of time with friends.

"Sir, your wife has been in an accident," the officer said after Long cracked open the front door.

The officer was visibly shaken.

"Well, is she OK?" Long asked frantically.

The answer that would follow would change his life forever.

"He looked at me and said, 'She did not survive.' Then, he handed me her purse," Long said Wednesday. "Talk about being hit in the gut."

Nersesian, 64, of Victoria, was killed after a suspected drunken driver slammed into her green Chevrolet Suburban while she was crossing Main Street at the Mockingbird Lane intersection.

On Wednesday, the Texas Department of Transportation erected a sign near the scene in her memory. It discourages drunken driving.

Long's co-workers at the Community Health Centers of South Central Texas raised $350 and worked with Mothers Against Drunk Driving for the project. The sign will stand there for two years.

Nurse Practitioner Angie Williams got the idea after she saw Long struggling. He returned to work a week after Nersesian's death.

"I've never seen a sign like this in Victoria, and I know we have a pretty significant drinking problem in this town," Williams said. "We shouldn't let Paula, who was an incredible person, be forgotten."

Paula did not like to drink alcohol. In fact, she often drove people home from parties where they would be drinking, Williams said.

"She would have wanted the sign," Williams said. "She would not have wanted us to point fingers at the guy because she would have forgiven him a long time ago ... but this is so preventable. It's one of the few things in the world that we can stop."

Long met his wife nearly 29 years ago.

"I asked a nurse at the clinic at the Kelly Air Force Base to go to dinner that Saturday evening before I was deployed," Long said.

Nersesian, a friend of the nurse, was visiting from out of town. They invited her to dinner, too.

Long and Nersesian then dated for three months before they married.

"I don't think we ever fought," he said.

Long said the daily phone calls and support from his children - Chelsea Long, of Victoria; Michelle Shollack, of Murphy; and Michael Long, of Corpus Christi - help him get out of bed on days when it seems impossible.

Long continues practicing family medicine at the community health center, which does not turn away people without insurance. He has sought spiritual advice from priests at the Trinity Episcopal Church. Paula's craft room, which is stocked full of cards she made herself and family photo albums, remains untouched.

And for the most part, Long avoids the Main Street and Mockingbird intersection, where he, too, was once injured.

On Dec. 13, 2011, a vehicle traveling south on Main Street blew through the stoplight. It hit Long's Lincoln passenger side, and he was hospitalized.

Police arrested John Florida, the 30-year-old man they say hit Nersesian's vehicle, on suspicion of intoxicated manslaughter.

The last time Criminal District Attorney Stephen Tyler checked, the Department of Public Safety lab he sent Florida's blood alcohol content to was about 13 months behind on testing it.

"There's an increase demand for forensic testing, and there has not been a corresponding expenditure by the state to hire people and purchase equipment," Tyler said.

Tyler requested commissioners add about $10,000 to his budget next year so he can send evidence such as this to a private lab that while more costly, would complete testing quicker.

"The only way to fix it is for the legislature to make it a higher priority, and I hope that they do," he said.

Florida attempted to apologize to Long, but for Long, anything Florida could say would fall short. Long hopes Florida goes to prison.

"It was a stupid act on his part that didn't need to happen, and in the process, he's ruined my family and his," Long said. "I'm not the first 68-year-old man to lose his younger wife in an accident, but God, it's awful. ... It will be a long time before I can get through this."

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