Grieving Dad Pays Teens to Not Drink

Valerie Isakova, Shine Parenting Editor
ParentingJune 15, 2012

Five years ago, Leo McCarthy's 14-year-old daughter Mariah was struck and killed by an underage drunk driver as she walked with two friends on a sidewalk just a block from home in Butte, MT.

McCarthy will never get his daughter back, but he has devoted his life to preventing underage drunk driving--in an unusual way.

Mariah's Challenge, issued to other local Butte teens at Mariah's memorial service, is a covenant between teens and their parents that the teens won't drink alcohol until they are of age, won't drive drunk as adults, and won't get in the car with other people who are under the influence. And if they pledge to do that, upon their graduation from high school, McCarthy will pay them scholarship money for college, through a foundation he set up with the fathers of the other two girls injured in the accident.

Related: NFL arrest heralds DUI crackdown

"If we save one child, we save a generation," McCarthy told Yahoo! Shine.

"If you stick with me for four years," he said during Mariah's eulogy, as reported by, "don't use alcohol, don't use illicit drugs but give back to your community, work with your parents and talk to your parents, I'll be there with a bunch of other people to give you money."

So far, Mariah's Challenge has dished out $1,000 each in scholarships to 140 Butte, MT teens. After being named a CNN hero June 14, McCarthy told Yahoo! Shine that the donations have been rolling in via PayPal, and he expects to be able to offer similar encouragement to many more teens. Mariah's Challenge has spawned sister organizations in three more Montana towns, as well as in Iowa and North Carolina.

The initiative has "definitely changed the culture in Butte," says Northey Tretheway, 17, the president of "Mariah's Maroons" at Butte Central Catholic High School. Tretheway took the pledge at 13 and has never had a drink. "I really don't see a need for it. I can have a good time without it," he says.

Related: Do movies have a drinking problem? Booze in the movies drives teens to binge

"Hopefully, other parents will never have to be in my shoes," McCarthy told Yahoo! Shine. "I don't wish this pain on anyone, even on the parents of Mariah's murderer."

The 20-year-old driver who hit Mariah and her two friends and subsequently left the scene of the crime (to McCarthy says, construct an alibi about having hit a deer), was eventually convicted and served three years in prison. He has never publicly apologized.

More on Shine:
5 dumbest things you do while driving
The deadliest states for teens to live in
How to find college scholarships

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