WATERLOO — Dr. Violet Mwanje had planned to someday work in an emergency room after moving to the United States from her native Uganda for a residency program.
But the death of her infant son at the hands of an intoxicated driver while she was working sidelined those aspirations. Now, the sights and sounds of an emergency room are a reminder of what she lost, and she has panic attacks if she goes near the unit or hears sirens.
And after her residency, she will concentrate her practice on adult patients, because it is difficult for her to take care of sick children, she said.
“Over and over again, I asked myself what I could have done differently to protect my son. After all, that is what a mother is supposed to do, and that is one of the reasons I moved to this country — to give my children the future they never had — only to lose him,” Violet Mwanje said Monday.
The parents of 7-month-year-old Liam Mwanje told the court about their struggles since the fatal Aug. 2, 2017, crash in Waterloo as the man convicted in the collision was sentenced to prison.
Derrick Earl Johnson, 37, of Waterloo, was sentenced to up to 25 years in prison, which is the mandatory punishment for homicide by vehicle while intoxicated. He was also ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution to Liam’s estate.
Johnson, who had apologized to Violet Mwanje following his March trial, declined to comment in court on Monday.
Violet Mwanje on Monday asked him to seek his own peace through Jesus.
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“You asked for my forgiveness, and I gave it. What I did not say that day was I forgave you a year ago just for my peace of mind, but I will not tell you that it’s OK. It’s not, and it will never be,” she said.
Liam’s father, Dr. Bright Anderson Mwanje, wasn’t in court but submitted a letter that was read into the record. He was finishing a surgery residency in Uganda at the time and had plans to come to the United States.
In his letter, he recalled getting a 3 a.m. phone call about the crash because of the time difference, and seeing the CT scan of his son’s head injury, knowing what the outcome was going to be.
“The grief was overwhelming for Violet and I, but also for our families back home. I didn’t know what to do or how to help my partner get through this,” the father said.
Like his wife, he suffered from depression following Liam’s death. It took its toll on his licensing process in America, and he decided to return Uganda in December 2017. The marriage fell apart.
“When I left, her situation worsened and it seemed like I abandoned her, yet none of us could fix the other,” he said.
At the time of the collision, Liam was with his babysitter and other children in a van on First Street during construction when Johnson ran a stop sign at Sycamore Street. Police said Derrick Johnson was going about 55 mph in a 25 mph zone, and investigators estimated Johnson’s blood alcohol was around .089 to .120 at the time of the collision. He also had cocaine in his system.