A Maryville native died as a result of a vehicle accident involving an alleged drunk driver.
Austin Cross, 22, died Oct. 24 at the University of Kansas Medical Center. He was unresponsive during his seven days at the hospital.
As part of Cross’ wishes, his organs were donated following his death. The organ donation surgery was performed Oct. 25. Through donating his organs, Cross was able to save four lives.
Cross was traveling with Northwest student Corey Brueggeman along Interstate 29 in St. Joseph Oct. 17 when they were hit head-on by an alleged drunk driver, 55-year-old Roger Moe. According to court records, Moe was driving 110 miles per hour
The Missouri Highway Patrol responded to calls regarding a vehicle parked in the wrong direction on an on-ramp north of the Highway 71 Interstate 29 interchange shortly before the accident. Moe fled south on north Interstate 29 when troopers arrived. He was arrested following the crash.
Moe faces four felony charges including Class A second-degree murder, Class B DWI- death of another not a passenger and Class E resisting arrest by fleeing. He has also been charged with two misdemeanors, including driving in the wrong direction and exceeding the speed limit by over 25 miles per hour. Court proceedings are in the early stages.
Brueggeman and Cross were friends. Brueggeman said his favorite memories with Cross involve drives out to Mozingo.
Brueggeman remembers Cross as someone who was helpful and made people smile.
“I will remember Austin by his ability to make others smile. He was a selfless person who cared for others,” Brueggeman said.
Justin Ward, Cross’ boyfriend of almost three years, said Cross donating his organs was a reflection of the type of person he was.
“My life is changed. But Austin was a giver, he saved lives and is making a difference in the world,” Ward said. “Even though I am very sad he’s gone it makes me happy to know that he was able to do all this after death.”
Ward’s mother, Sarah Bix, echoed Ward’s statement saying Cross valued helping others and making other people smile.
“Through all the sadness of losing Austin, there is the blessing he left by being an organ donor, which means a part of Austin is still here on earth and his heart beats on,” Bix said.
Bix has fond memories of the time Cross spent with Ward.
“Honestly my favorite times with the boys was when they would just come over and hang out,” Bix said. “Usually it was in the kitchen. They would be sitting on the stools, floor and even the countertops doing Snapchats, playing videos, laughing and just enjoying the time together.”
Bix also remembers how well Cross fit into her family.
“I loved how excited he would get for our family trip to the Renaissance Festival,” Bix said. “The first year he went with us, he really didn't want to go at all, but he did, and by the end of the day, he didn't want to leave. He was just crazy enough; he fit into our family so well.”
For Bix, the loss of Cross was a life gone too soon, at the hands of drunk driving.
“Don't drink and drive,” Bix said. “Though Austin was not the one drinking, his life could have been saved, by someone else making the choice not to drive after drinking. Austin was our blessing, and he was taken way too soon.”
Cross is the second person with Maryville ties to have died from drunk driving in 2018. Northwest sophomore Morgan McCoy was injured when Alex Catterson, 21, crashed into The Palms Jan. 7. She was later pronounced dead at St. Francis Hospital.
Catterson was charged with a Class B felony DWI - death of another not a passenger. His trial is scheduled to take place Feb. 11-15, 2019.
Despite the two deaths, Maryville has seen a decrease in drunk driving arrests. The decline is credited to a number of resources put into place by both the University and city.
For the city of Maryville, Public Safety Director Keith Wood said his department is on pace to make 32-35 DWI arrests for 2018. Comparatively, his department made around 60 arrests in 2016.
Wood said his officers take it upon themselves to target drunk drivers.
“The officers kind of among themselves take a certain pride in finding and arresting drunks,” Wood said.
The Blue Cup Initiative is one of the programs that has been put into place in an effort to combat drunk driving.
“Some of the local bars started new programs to where if you are a designated driver, they give you a cup that you can drink all night non-alcoholic beverages,” Wood said.
For Northwest, Police Chief Clarence Green said Northwest sees 15-20 DWIs per year. This number is small compared to what the number was 15 years ago.
“(DWI arrests) really lowered about 15 years ago. We used to average a little more than 100, and when we instituted safe rides that really decreased the DWIs in our area,” Green said.
Safe Ride Home is a national program aimed to give college students a free and safe option to get home after drinking with no questions asked. Green said Safe Ride was added after working with the Greek Life community.
“Our Greek Life community came together roughly 15 years ago at an alcohol summit,” Green said. “We worked on some solutions that could help with impaired driving as well as substance abuse. Safe Ride is one of the programs we implemented out of that.”
The success of Safe Ride Home was pointed out by Wood, as well as Nodaway County Sheriff Randy Strong.
“I think it’s great. It gives people an option, it makes people aware they can get home if they took too much to drink,” Strong said.
Green and Wood both said their departments try to make sure the public is informed. One misunderstanding Green has noticed is what constitutes a DWI.
“A common misconception is it’s not a number in Missouri, you don’t have to blow the .08,” Green said.
This means that you can be arrested for driving while under the influence of Marijuana or alcohol. Green said it also means you can be convicted of DWI even if you are under the legal limit.
“You can have alcohol in your system and blow .03, but if you’re driving on the sidewalk we would say you're probably impaired,” Green said.
Another misconception pointed out by Strong was when you can be arrested for DWI.
“You can be arrested on private property for driving while intoxicated or if you get in a gas-powered lawn mower and go down the road drunk you can be arrested for that too,” Strong said.
A factor attributed to the decrease is also the low tolerance society has for drunk driving. Strong said that DWI was taken less seriously when he first started in law enforcement. Throughout his time the blood alcohol content level has changed from .12 to .10 and to its current .08.
“I think times have changed. I think people are more cognizant of (the dangers of drunk driving),” Strong said.
A GoFundMe page is available medical and funeral expenses for Cross’s family. Anyone can donate at https://www.gofundme.com/help-austin-cross.
Visitation for Cross will be held Nov. 3 from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. at Immaculate Conception Church in Leavenworth, Kansas. His funeral will be held in the same location at 11:00 p.m. The interment service will then be held at 12:30 p.m. at Sunset Memory Gardens in Leavenworth, Kansas.