DUI fatality a story about underage drinking

Megan Titus-Horton is pictured 12 years ago at the corner of Yosemite and Vacation Drives, the site of a DUI accident that killed her fiance, James Mize-Hauser

Credit: Provided by Megan Titus-Horton

Megan and her daughter, Jaylee, hold a picture of Megan and James, Jalee's father, in happier times.

Credit: Provided by Megan Titus-Horton


Georgia Zermeno ? wife, mother and reporter for The Friday Flyer for the past 16 months ? is passionate about the young people of Canyon Lake. Over the years her children have grown up in the community, she has coached, taught, counseled and loved many of their friends and neighbors. One of her greatest concerns is parents who don't know how or who are unwilling to be parents to their children ? to set guidelines on a number of important issues, including underage drinking and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

For this, her final article for The Friday Flyer, Georgia says, "I prayed a lot about this article. I got to the point where I said, 'Okay God, this is my last article for The Friday Flyer. What can I do to open people's eyes?'"

She continues, "I truly hope parents start taking their role as a priority; that they realize the choices they make are affecting their children. I hope some read it and get back involved with their kids instead of just letting kids figure life out for themselves. The youth in Canyon Lake desperately need their parents. So many things they are choosing are their way of crying out in the hope that someone will step in and say, 'I care enough to stop you.'"

Georgia says this true story is written to address two major issues affecting many in Canyon Lake: 1. drinking and driving; and 2. Minors obtaining and consuming alcohol, often with their parents' permission.

There are laws and ordinances that say drinking and driving is illegal, consumption of alcohol by a minor is illegal and serving alcohol to a minor is illegal. But more than that, says Georgia, parents are the ones to offer guidance and give their children the chance of living a healthy, successful life, without unnecessary hardships, obstacles or life-altering consequences from choices that could have been stopped in their earlier years.

Lessons learned and lives changed

By Georgia Zermeno

Reporter, The Friday Flyer

There are laws and ordinances regarding underage drinking. There are consequences for those who choose to break laws. Lectures are easily blocked out by adults and children alike. Sometimes real life stories help people learn what laws and lectures cannot teach. Here is a story that took place inside the gates of Canyon Lake 12 years ago and continues to affect those involved.

This is the story of a brave family who experienced tragedy because laws about underage drinking were broken. This family's hope is that listening to their story helps at least one other person learn why the laws about underage drinking are not a nuisance but protection for those they love.

Megan Titus-Horton is a married mother of three: a beautiful, pre-teen daughter and two active young boys. She has lived in Canyon Lake most of her life and enjoyed the amenities and family activities the community offers. She loves to call Canyon Lake home; a home where she has celebrated joyous moments and has shed tears of heartache.

The story she tells began 12 years ago on January 27. An accident occurred due to underage drinking, driving under the influence and wrong choices made by many, which ultimately cost one young man his life and changed the lives of others, including Megan's unborn child.

“James Mize-Hauser was my fiancÚ, we had been dating for one year,” says Megan. “We had just found out we were going to have a baby.”

She says they decided to go to a friend’s party inside Canyon Lake. “This was the first party we had gone to together. James wanted to celebrate the news.”

Megan and James went to the party with his best friend, Bryan Parkins. Megan was 17. James and Bryan were 20. The party was at the home of a friend of Bryan’s younger brother.

“There were a lot of kids around my age there, some even younger,” says Megan, “The kids having the party said their parents were on vacation.”

Megan said she was at the party for about an hour. She told James she was tired so Bryan drove Megan and James back to James’ house, where Megan had left her car. As Megan headed back to her grandmother’s house on Sandpiper, James told her he was in for the night. She called him when she got home and then went to bed.

“I received a phone call at 4 a.m.” says Megan. On the phone was James’s dad, Bill Hauser. “He told me to come to Inland Valley Hospital, that James was in an accident. He told me not to drive myself,” says Megan. Megan says her grandmother and sisters were sleeping so she drove herself to the hospital.

When she arrived, the receptionist asked if she was the pregnant fiancÚ, then led her to a chair outside of a room and told her the doctor would be there shortly. When the doctor arrived, he told her that James was in an accident and that he had died. James had broken his neck in the accident.

“I was in complete shock,” Megan says. “All that went through my mind was how could he be in an accident when he was home sleeping?”

Megan was brought into the room where James had tubes down his throat and blood everywhere. In disbelief, she stood along his bedside with his father and stepmother. “I wiped the blood off him and was given the necklace he was wearing,” Megan says, “I just laid on his chest and cried, hoping to wake up from a bad nightmare.” She kissed him good-by when she was told she had to leave.

James’ father gave Megan a ride home. As they arrived upon the scene of the accident at the corner of Yosemite and Vacation Drives, Megan, overwhelmed with emotion, became ill and threw up. She then talked to officers and learned that the driver of the truck was intoxicated.

“I had so many questions, was so hurt, angry, devastated and confused,” says Megan.

Megan reached Bryan and found out that James had called a different friend to pick him up and had gone back to the party after they had spoken. During the party, James asked this friend to take him to the store to get cigarettes. Returning from the store at excessive speeds, the driver lost control on a turn and hit a tree. Incident reports say the truck rolled numerous times. Neither driver nor passenger was wearing seat belts. The driver was ejected and received a minor injury. James was pinned in the truck. Rescue crews needed the Jaws of Life to extricate him and he died in the helicopter en route to the hospital.

Megan says, “I don’t know why James lied and said he was going to bed. I don’t know why he got in the car knowing his friend was drunk. I do know that all the kids at the party were under 21. I don’t know who bought the alcohol for the party. To this day I still have so many questions that will never be answered.”

Megan says she understands that James made wrong choices. But she also shares what a caring, sweet person he was. “I was scared about the pregnancy; he was supportive and even excited.”

Speaking about her fiancÚ's background, Megan says James had found out at 14 that he was adopted. The parents who adopted him had later divorced. “He had a lot of hurt and anger he was dealing with,” she says.

A few months after the accident, on September 12, 2001, Megan gave birth to Jaylee Lani Titus-Mize. By her side stood her family and James’ family and many good friends.

Megan’s best friend, Mindy Horton, stayed close after James passed away. Megan met Paul, Mindy’s brother, during that time and they too became good friends.

“I knew Paul when I was pregnant with Jaylee. We hung out, and I cried on his shoulder many times,” says Megan.

Megan and Paul began dating about a month before Jaylee’s first birthday. “He treated Jaylee as his own and was very understanding. We got married in May 2006.”

Paul did not replace James, Megan says, adding, “Jaylee says she has two daddies. One is in heaven and one is here on earth.” Megan says she kept James’ ashes next to her bed for years until Jaylee was old enough and asked for them to be in her room next to her bed.

But this story does not end there; it is only a few chapters of a book yet to be completed.

Megan, 12 years later, has not had a day go by that she does not remember the lessons she has learned. On that fateful night, Megan also had choices. She chose to leave the party. She chose to go home. More importantly, in spite of tragedy, she chose to keep moving forward and celebrate a special gift. “God blessed me with my pregnancy ? with Jaylee,” she says.

Megan says she has chosen to be open with her daughter about every aspect of the experience. She speaks openly to anyone who will listen about the consequences of drinking and driving, and also getting into a car with someone else who has been drinking.

Jaylee, now 11, made a video about her story. She explains on the video how the father she never met died ? how it has affected her life and how she hopes that others do not make the same choices.

Megan shares that her own childhood was not the best, but says, “I believe that growing up in that type of environment you can go one of two ways: either follow the same path you witnessed growing up or make conscious decisions to not subject yourself or your kids to anything that even remotely imitates the scenes and situations you witnessed growing up.”

She continues, “Hopefully, with my decision to break the cycle, my kids will see what a true, loving relationship and family is, and will imitate that instead.”

Megan made her choices, chose to change what needed to be changed, and took another important step, forgiveness.

“I am not mad at the driver of the truck, nor do I hold any resentment toward him. I know it was hard on him. I know is has to be very hard on him knowing he killed one of his best friends and that he took a son, fiancÚ, dad, brother and uncle away from his family.”

The laws were there. The punishment of the laws was determined in court. Charges were filed and lawsuits for claims of responsibility lasted for years. None of those legal events brought James Mize-Hauser back. None of those laws kept Jaylee’s father in her life.

The story is not about just talking to children about the dangers of drinking and driving. It is not about telling the kids to be “more careful” when they are partying with friends. It is hoped that, in telling this story, parents open their minds to read in between the lines of this situation and take action to prevent it from ever happening to their family.