- Associated Press - Monday, April 21, 2014

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) - A mother and son drove their life tragedy into a new direction, by motivating tens of thousands of drunken drivers to change their behavior.

“Two things motivate people to modify bad habits - knowledge and fear of consequences,” said Estella Gonzales, 65.

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times (http://bit.ly/1rfc7nB ) reports her son, Karam Pratt, was mangled Oct. 25, 1992 at age 15 by a four-door Lincoln Continental driven by a teenager being chased by police, according to Caller-Times archives.

“It’s definitely why we have done what we do the past 20 years,” Gonzales said.

The impact of being hurled nearly a city block split Pratt’s skull, leaving him in a coma for weeks, and facing years of physical therapy.

Two years later, while still adapting to his life changes, Pratt helped his mother launch a school for those who break the law. Since early 1995, it has evolved into ADAPT (Alcohol & Drug Abuse Prevention in Texas) and ABC Defensive Driving School, which have served nearly 60,000 people. Most are referred from area courts, probation departments and employers.

Its 10 primary drug and alcohol classes are Texas State Certified Offender Education Programs, taught by counselors licensed with the state and approved by the Texas Education Agency. ABC is one of about 500 DWI programs listed on the state health department’s website, but one of fewer than a dozen in the Coastal Bend.

“Don’t do it again,” has become Gonzales and Pratt’s catch phrase for folks completing classes.

“We don’t pick the people in our immediate vicinity, especially on the road,” Gonzales tells class participants. “At any moment they can do something that can impact the rest of our lives.”

Her best example is her son.

Estella’s passion leaves a memorable impression,” said Monika Page, the owner of BizMatch Inc., one of 36,381 people who have taken the school’s defensive driving class. “I had to take it because I drove too fast.”

Texas allows traffic tickets to be dismissed after completion of the six-hour course.

Pratt, 37, was alone nearly 22 years ago while crossing the intersection of Ayers and Tarlton streets after bowling with friends. The group planned to cross, but a boy behind Pratt stooped at the crosswalk curb to tie his shoe, holding others up, his mother said.

“My son wasn’t a model student. He was a hardheaded troublemaker,” she tells students. “But he didn’t deserve what happened.”

The impact hurled Pratt 96 feet, police later determined.

Within three hours, as he lay in a coma, doctors told Gonzales he would die by morning, and donating his organs could save five people’s lives.

“I was so angry,” she said. “I told him to go back in there and save my son’s life.”

Pratt’s skull splitting saved his life, she said, because there was space for his brain to swell from the trauma. His photo ran three times in a Crime Stoppers commercial, but the driver was never found.

Pratt’s physical recovery was swifter than his emotional and psychological recovery. Gonzales contributes it to his school friends staying by his side in the hospital, reading to him and bringing music he liked.

When he returned to King High School, Pratt couldn’t yet read again, but was allowed to graduate.

His mother was driven to start her own business.

“I had to control my time,” she said. “No one would have hired me. Karam came first, and he was 6 foot 2 inches tall, behaving like a child and staggering around unable to walk a straight line.”

She completed training in 1995 with Texas Department of State Health Services.

The Small Business Administration wouldn’t loan her startup money, she said, but she was determined to rent two rooms and bathroom in an older house on Everhart Road near Gollihar Road. She and Pratt found discarded carpet to put in its lobby, and used furniture from home.

The business now has multiple classrooms in Sunrise Mall.

Pratt considers himself the mortar who holds the business together. He cleans classrooms, prepares coffee and snacks for students; vacuums offices, answers the phone, makes bank deposits, works the front desk, then helps sort paperwork after classes to provide program completion certificates.

“Some people would call me the gofer,” Pratt said, as he flashed a broad smile.

“I’m sure we have saved a lot of people’s lives,” he said. “It saves a lot of people from jail, too.”

Pratt, who married in November with a woman he’s known since high school, still has memory loss. The steel plate in his right shin aches in cold weather and his left knee buckles without warning. He has some nervous ticks, often squinting his eyes while driving. But he uses humor as a stabilizing influence when dealing with angry people who have court-ordered programs.

“Some people push too hard,” Pratt said. “So I joke, and when I look at their ID I’ll tell them I’ll mail it back to them in the next couple weeks.”

In response to their startled reaction, he flashes his big smile and says, “Just joshing you.”

Joking aside, he has become a powerful voice against drinking and driving, which Corpus Christi police said is 27-percent higher in the first quarter of the year.

“People shouldn’t take things too seriously in life, but drink and drive - you’d think everybody knows don’t,” Pratt said. “Yet it keeps happening. It’s why we have a victim impact panel and repeat offender program.”

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Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, http://www.caller.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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