Mt Pleasant News

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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 19, 2018

Wife of Walford man killed by drunken driver in 2016 promoting Horizons fundraiser

By Trish Mehaffey, The Gazette | Sep 14, 2017

Debbie Erenberger had dinner with her husband Greg in Ely before she left to “dog-sit” for their daughter the weekend of Aug. 5, 2016.

“We met that night for dinner before I went and when we went outside to leave, I remember, it was like he was looking through me and said ‘So, I won’t see you tomorrow?’ I said, ‘No, but I’ll be back Sunday.’ ”

Greg kissed his wife and said “I love you” before he rode off on his Harley.

“That’s the last meal we shared ... the last time I saw him,” said Erenberger as her smile faded and tears crept down her cheeks. “I believe I wasn’t on his bike that night for a reason.”

Greg Erenberger, 59, a financial planner who owned Edge Asset Management in Cedar Rapids, was killed after a drunken driver crashed into his motorcycle, which was stopped for a red light at the Wright Brothers Boulevard and Interstate 380 interchange about 10:47 p.m. that night, court records show.

Taylor Latare, 27, of Solon, pleaded guilty in April to vehicular homicide and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. A breath alcohol test taken following the crash showed Latare’s blood alcohol level was .173 percent, more than twice the legal limit of .08 percent.

Debbie Erenberger, of Walford, an English teacher at Prairie High School who retired in June, said Wednesday she was fortunate to have a lot of support from family, friends, students and the school district, but also received “tremendous” support from the Horizons Survivors’ Program. She wanted to talk Wednesday about her husband to help promote the second annual Wine Gala & Auction a fundraiser that takes place from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday at the National Czech and Slovak Museum, 1400 Inspiration Place SW, Cedar Rapids. The event features a social hour followed by a program at 7 p.m.

Those wishing to attend who don’t already have tickets are asked to make a goodwill offering at the door.

The Survivors’ program addresses the needs of violent crime victims and the families and friends of homicide and vehicular homicide victims. The program serves 14 counties in Southeast Iowa and addresses the immediate and long-term needs of those impacted by violent crime.

Erenberger is sponsoring a table on Saturday, which she also did last year because of the support she received from B.J. Franklin, director of Survivors’ and her grief counselor, Bruce Williams. Franklin and the other victim advocates made her feel like she was “their only client.” She said Williams, was a “godsend.”

“He told me I wasn’t broken and related to me. He’s been so reassuring,” she added.

Franklin said those like Erenberger, as well as several area companies, have donated 50 baskets, so far, that contain Iowa football tickets, a kayak, a birthday basket for kids, various gift certificates and passes to Hancher, Orchestra Iowa and UI Student Theater productions for the Wine Gala auctions that will be open throughout the night.

The program speakers at the event are Biz and Kate Peterson, who were in the Aplington/Parkersburg High School weight room when football coach Ed Thomas, 58, was shot to death by Mark Becker in June 2009. Both will talk about what the Survivors Program did for them following the incident and Becker’s murder trial that led to a conviction and life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole.

Franklin said the “title sponsor” of the gala is the Hy-Vee store in Marion, which is supporting the event as a show of support for the family of Lynnsey Donald, 29, who was stabbed to death in the parking lot outside the store on April 21, 2015. Survivors’ assisted the family following Donald’s murder and throughout the first-degree murder trial of Nicholas Luerkens, 35, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole in May before the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled that he should have a new trial because the judge should have allowed the jury to consider an insanity defense. His new trial is set for Dec. 4 in Linn County District Court.

Despite tragedies like these, Franklin said the gala is uplifting and “filled with emotion because there are so many stories behind it.” He said the event provides the funding needed for the organization to continue to help victims.

Erenberger said she still relies on the Survivors’ Program because she hasn’t recovered. She had been with Greg since she was 15 and he was 17, both students at Prairie. They were married for 37 years.

“He would want me to keep going,” Erenberger said, tearing up again. “I wear a ‘Choose Joy’ bracelet every day. I talk about him all the time.”

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