Grundy County Coroner John Callahan is the first coroner to ever receive the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Community Award.
Callahan was given the award this fall and, although he was unable to make it for the ceremony, the recognition bestowed on him did not go unnoticed. Callahan's son, Jake Callahan, who is a Marseilles police officer, accepted the award on behalf of his father.
"It's definitely an honor to be recognized by a national organization," said Callahan.
The award is given out annually, but only if there is a fitting candidate, said Susan McKeigue, CEO for MADD Illinois.
"He's the only coroner to ever receive it," she said.
"He has a passion to prevent underage drinking. He's given his time and his own financial resources to get the word out that drinking and driving is a deadly practice."
The coroner was nominated for his campaign against drinking and driving and underage drinking, which includes participating in area Road to Reality programs at high schools, giving presentations, and the largest part of his campaign, telling Meagan's story.
Meagan Ahlstrom, 24, was traveling on Illinois 47 in June 2009, when a drunk driver swerved into her lane near the Grundy County Fairgrounds, hitting her vehicle, killing Meagan and injuring her mother, Rebecca Ahlstrom.
Callahan had the actual vehicle permanently attached to a trailer that was paid for by Exelon Nuclear. He displays it through the community throughout the year, and in other communities that request it. It is displayed with signs that say “Don’t Drink and Drive” and “Meagan’s Story.”
From the passenger’s side of the vehicle, it looks damaged from an accident. From the driver’s side, it is clearly destroyed.
The car is currently parked in a parking lot off of Illinois 47 and Washington Street to remind people to be safe during the holidays.
"It all goes along with a lot of the other programs I started here. Just because we are called in at the end of someone's life, it's not the end. It's the beginning of what we can do out there to be proactive to prevent others from traveling down that path," said Callahan.
Callahan was nominated for the award by Kim Scerine of Coal City. Scerine works closely with Callahan as a volunteer for Coal City's annual Road to the Reality, which is program that spread awareness to the younger community of the dangers of drinking and driving and other dangers such as bullying.
Scerine called Callahan an unsung hero. She said he always volunteers his time and offers his assistance in any program that gets the message out against drinking and driving or other dangers to the community.
"He's an inspiring person for the cause," she said.