Nine years on, and the ache is worse than ever. No alcohol to dull it these days. No drugs to make it disappear. Just that clean, sober memory in Tricia McCoy's mind this holiday...

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Nine years on, and the ache is worse than ever.

No alcohol to dull it these days. No drugs to make it disappear.

Just that clean, sober memory in Tricia McCoy’s mind this holiday season, of the night her brother and husband both died after drinking, their truck skidding through mud flats and into a lake.

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“The pain doesn’t get better,” said McCoy, 30, who has struggled with alcohol and drug addiction since the men have died. “It’s just different.”

A statewide holiday campaign to stop drunken drivers will kick into high gear tonight, as 160 police agencies send extra officers onto the streets and highways. Snohomish and Pierce counties will each send out about 50 additional patrol cars, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

And in King County, where about 100 extra patrol cars are expected, the entire effort will be dedicated to McCoy’s brother, Heath Parker.

A 20-year-old Marine, Parker drowned a day before Christmas in 1995, while trying to rescue his brother-in-law, Michael McCoy, after the truck McCoy was driving careened into Riffe Lake, in Lewis County. Parker, the only passenger, made it to shore, and then swam back into the lake once he realized his brother-in-law was missing, a police investigation later showed.

All these years later, McCoy said, it was healing to hear that the police would be working tonight in her brother’s honor.

Heath Parker tried to save his brother-in-law.

“The more people I can get to remember my brother, the stronger I get,” said McCoy, a single mother who now lives in Seattle and has started to speak publicly about the accident.

“Not only are the law enforcement going to know my brother’s name, but all the people they pull over are going to know his name.”

Last year over the winter holidays, police in King County stopped more than 2,600 drivers suspected of being under the influence of drinking or drugs, according to Public Health — Seattle & King County. More than 1,000 were arrested.

On the night of the car crash, McCoy bought her brother and her husband alcohol, as they were both under the legal age limit. So along with the grief that came with their deaths, there was also the guilt. She spent the next several years trying to cope with it, first through alcohol, then with drugs.

But in the past 1½ years, McCoy has gotten herself clean, sober and involved in telling the story of how her brother died. She has told it as part of victim-impact panels for convicted drunken drivers.

She has told it in schools. She received hundreds of “thank you” notes from Rose Hill Junior High School in Kirkland, where the story of her tragedy held more than 600 students in silence.

“I cried, I shook,” said McCoy, describing her reaction to the notes. “And I smiled because I knew that my painful story was making a difference.”

Now she is trying to form a nonprofit to improve drunken-driving education in schools.

Separated in age by only a year, McCoy and her brother were the best of playmates in the tight-knit town of Morton.

The sister defended her brother when classmates teased him at school. The brother protected his sister when she cowered in a cave full of bats. They fought, made peace and liked each other even better as adults.

As a teenager, Parker stood out in town, with his long, black hair and grunge-style clothing. When he sang in a local rock band, his sister sat dutifully at each summer concert, trying to imagine it was music.

It was a shock when Parker joined the Marines, she said. But he found the lure of adventure in the job and made strong friendships. Stationed in San Diego, he volunteered for duty in Bosnia to take the place of a colleague. The colleague had children, Parker reasoned; he did not.

The body of Michael McCoy was never found.

He was home on leave from Bosnia when he died. McCoy last saw her brother alive the night before, after she bought alcohol for him and her husband and watched them drive off to a friend’s house.

She next saw her brother two days later, when a diver tripped over his body on Christmas Day in the shallow waters of Riffe Lake.

The body of her husband, whom she had married 10 months earlier, was never found.

Seattle Times Lead News Assistant Nyssa Rogers contributed to this report.

Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024 or