Matt Dies has good and bad days. Valentine’s Day was especially hard, he said. But rather than let the pain paralyze him, he does his best to keep moving, to stay active and productive and do things that would make his daughter proud. “What else can I do?” he asked.
Mallory passed away on December 11, five days after she was hit by a drunk driver who left her lying in the middle of the road surrounded by panicked friends. She was 27. At her memorial service, Matt remembered the UCSB graduate and downtown bartender as whip-smart and big-hearted, toughened up by two brothers but warm toward everyone from the barbacks to the bosses.
Matt vowed then, as he does now, to give meaning to the seeming senselessness of his daughter’s death. To that end, he and a number of Mallory’s friends have formed the Vow4Mal group with a strong but simple message: Don’t drink and drive. “We want to affect this community,” Matt said. “Obviously we’re not the first group to try and make a dent, but our tactic is a little different.” Rather than try and change policy, Matt went on, they’re employing “more feet on the street” methods to “change attitude and behavior.”
Matt said the group has received much-appreciated guidance from the Santa Barbara Foundation as they enter unfamiliar waters of fundraising and outreach. They’re in the process of partnering with other drug and alcohol treatment and prevention programs, UCSB’s Greek organizations, the SBPD, and so on. “When Santa Barbara gets together, anything is possible,” said Ryan Todey, one of Mallory’s close friends.
For practical purposes, Todey said, the group first threw its energy into making money, generating more than $40,000 during a memorial golf tournament in January. They also held a silent auction at Blush that similarly brought in thousands. Sponsoring and organizing various events since, they’re working out of a donated office space on the Eastside and are about to launch a website with free hosting for two years. Todey, who worked at Tonic Nightclub with Mallory, said he’s now engaged in Vow4Mal-related duties full-time.
“The key is providing safe alternatives to getting people home,” Todey said, noting the area’s vibrant nightlife and calling Santa Barbara a “hospitality-driven town.” Todey said people have the right to go out and have a good time, but it’s his and Matt’s wish to get them home safe. They’d like to pair with transportation companies and create a voucher system, he said, and establish a ring of volunteers to get people back to their cars in the morning. “Not wanting to leave your car overnight is the most common excuse to drive drunk,” Todey declared.
Matt agreed. “Most people drink and drive just to avoid the inconvenience,” he said. “The mentality is, ‘I’ll go and risk lives because I don’t want to be inconvenienced.’ We want to change that thinking.” Matt said the group would like to keep a relatively low profile at first — “We want to under-promise and over-deliver,” he stated — before spreading their mentality-changing vision once they prove it works. Todey also suggested distributing surveys in County Jail to those arrested for DUI to determine why they got behind the wheel in the first place.
“This is the best way to honor Mallory,” Matt said of Vow4Mal’s overarching mission. “I think she would be extremely proud.” Anytime they make a decision, she’s on their mind, he said. “We always ask ourselves, ‘Would she like that?’” Todey said that because Mallory was always supportive of the LGBT community, the group has decided to hold an event at Wildcat Lounge on April 6.