37 people die in drunk driving crashes every day. Local basketball star’s father never thought she’d be one of them

Every day in the U.S. about 37 people die in crashes involving drunk drivers.

That’s one person every 39 minutes.

Memorial markers seen along roadsides serve as a reminder of how dangerous drinking and driving can be. Each one symbolizes a life lost.

Alicia Gladden’s name is on one of those markers — under the words “Drive Safely.”

The former professional basketball player and high school coach was in a head-on crash with a drunk driver in April 2013 at the corner of Roosevelt Boulevard and McDuff Avenue.

Alicia was on her way home from a game she’d coached when two sailors who’d been drinking at The Jacksonville Landing hit her. Both Alicia and the driver of the other vehicle died at the scene.

Alicia’s father, David Gladden, avoids the area of the crash to this day. He said there’s no pain like losing a child.

“It’s been tough. I don’t have closure,” he said. “I’m sad that he lost his life, but I’ve never gotten to face him and say what happened.”

Alicia’s bedroom in Orange Park still looks the same, adorned with accolades from her days of playing in high school, at Florida State University and in the European leagues. She was known as “Ice” on the court.

“She really, really loved basketball,” her father said.

He said his daughter was a force to be reckoned with during games.

“She was even-keeled when she played. She never got too high, never too low. She was like a smooth player,” David said.

Alicia spent her final days as an assistant basketball coach at Creekside High School, coaching young girls who aspired to be like her.

“She was real close to the young ladies that she was coaching. They were real fond of her. The coach was real fond of her,” David said.

Judy Cotton with Mothers Against Drunk Driving said these types of crashes are always preventable.

“Crashes can happen anywhere at any time to anyone,” Cotton said. “That’s why it’s so important to not drive impaired, to wear your seat belt, to follow traffic laws, don’t drive distracted because these are two-ton killing machines that people are operating.”

Ten years later, David Gladden still feels the pain of his daughter’s loss, and he wants people to be mindful before drinking and getting behind the wheel.

“Be careful what you do. Be careful in the decisions that you make,” he said. “It not only affects you, it can affect somebody else and change somebody’s life completely.”

Memorial markers are available through the Florida Department of Transportation or the county, depending on the type of road. The cost and maintenance of the markers are covered by FDOT.

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