Jeff Wielichowski, 22, started drinking Tucker’s Death Mix—a concoction of 190-proof Everclear, Red Bull and Gatorade—at 8:30 p.m. July 15. Two hours later, his mother was performing CPR on him.
Luanne Wielichowski urged her son to take it easy an hour before he drowned in the family pool while partying with friends. She remembers what he told her: “Don’t worry. I’m at home. I’m not driving. I’m OK.”
Not long after, Wielichowski was at her son's side when she was alerted something was wrong.
“I was his best bet that night,” she said. “As soon as someone got me, in a half-second, I was out there. I said ‘He’s breathless and pulseless. Someone call 911.’ … The problem was, the kids did not recognize the trouble he was in. Kids don’t recognize how dangerous alcohol intoxication is. You can talk to them until you’re blue in the face and they still don’t think it will affect them.”
Neither Wielichowski, a nurse practitioner and nursing professor at , nor paramedics were able to revive Jeff. He was at approximately 11:30 p.m.
Spreading the word
With her son’s death Wielichowski has a mission. She is passionate about it, yet wishes it wasn’t hers.
Wielichowski wants Wisconsin to join 15 other states in banning the 190-proof Everclear (it is also produced as a 151-proof) from its liquor department shelves. She aims to get all 160-proof or higher alcohol banned in the state.
It didn’t take long for her to start work.
She sent a version of to Joyce O’Donnell, a citizen member of the State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse, to be shared at its Aug. 15 meeting and later at a Department of Health Services state committee meeting.
She didn’t stop there.
Wielichowski fired off the letter to anyone she thought could help. She emailed Sen. Herb Kohl, Gov. Scott Walker, state senators Tim Carpenter and Peggy Krusick and others. Krusick, Wielichowski said, has been her strongest supporter so far and is in the drafting phase of a bill that would ban high-proof alcohol from the state.
Wielichowski also emailed Greenfield Mayor Michael Netizke and the city’s alderpersons. Although municipalities do not have the power to enforce specific alcohol bans, the issue will be discussed at the Sept. 8 Board of Health meeting; Wielichowski is a member of the board.
After learning of Wielichowski’s quest, Alderwoman Linda Lubotsky went to local liquor stores; many owners voluntarily pulled the product from their shelves.
“I, too, am a mom of a son the same age as this young life that passed too soon,” Lubotsky wrote in an email. “That alone isn't the reason I did this. It just was the right thing to do to protect our youth. The family can now ease their worries at least in Greenfield, for now, this poison will no longer be sold here.”
Wielichowski said that’s something, “but it’s a drop in the bucket.”
“This guy on the corner may have taken it off the shelf when Linda went in there and said, ‘Did you know someone died drinking this?’ My guess is it’s not going to be gone long. … And kids can just go to another city to get it.”
She knows the problem is bigger than Everclear.
“Even though Everclear killed my son, there are other high-proof alcohols out there,” she said. “High-proof alcohols have to be banned in this state. We need a bill put forward and a governor that will sign it. I think we’re a long way off before that happens.”
Aug. 30 would have been Jeff’s 23rd birthday. Three of his friends spent two hours in the rain planting a tree as a memorial to their friend up on the bluffs in La Crosse, where Jeff recently graduated from Virterbo University. Just last week, Jeff’s graduation pictures arrived at the Wielichowski’s home.
Two more reminders to Wielichowski of why she is now on this unwanted mission.
“It was a senseless, senseless death for a child that had everything in his future,” she said. “(My goal) is getting rid of high-proof alcohol so no other child has to die needlessly because they make a stupid mistake. So no other parent has to go through what we went through. I don’t know if there is a chance of recovery. I will never be the same. Never.”
For more on the Wielichowskis, read a story by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here.