Event at high school underscores dangers of drinking, driving

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

A horrific accident occurred Friday afternoon at Trimble County High School, involving two vehicles, three teens, two adults and at least one case of beer. There was one person dead – a woman thrown from one vehicle onto the hood of the other.

In the grass near the parking lot “accident” scene were bleachers where about 200 juniors and seniors from the high school watched as paramedics and firefighters gave aid to the victims and privacy to the dead girl, whom they covered with a sheet.

OK. This accident wasn’t real. But there was plenty of fake blood to go around. And using two vehicles bashed up in actual accidents, Milton and Bedford’s fire and rescue departments made it look very real, indeed.

The goal was to show the high school students what can happen when someone drinks and drives and, perhaps, make them think twice so that this doesn’t happen to them – particularly on this weekend, which was prom.

It’s impossible to say, with certainty, that the program worked. But, I’m happy to report that all of our young people attended prom and returned home safe and sound. No grisly accidents and, with any luck, no drinking and driving. Either everyone made the right choice, or those who took the risk were lucky – this time – and avoided disaster.

At the end of the program Friday, with all of the students back in the gym before heading to the buses or their cars to start the weekend, Ronnie Barnes, chief of the Milton Volunteer Fire Department, said something that rang especially true to me. He said the biggest fear for emergency workers in a small community is coming upon an accident and seeing familiar faces when they look inside mangled vehicles.

For most of my 23 years in journalism, I moved around. A lot. The longest I lived in one location was four years, and that was in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Price Hill, where the population numbered probably three times the 10,000 who live here in Trimble County. Soon, I will have surpassed that previous record; in about six months, I will have lived in our house in Milton longer than I’ve lived in one place since I moved out of my parents’ home.

I married a local man; I’ve been editor of The News-Democrat for seven years and connected to the Trimble Banner that same length of time. I certainly don’t know everybody, but I realized recently that the chances are good that if there is in a bad accident, I may know someone involved. Or, at least, I’ll know a member of their family. It already has happened once, when Kelly Jewell died three years ago in an accident. My stepson knew her well; he and his classmates were devastated.

So, I hope that Friday’s demonstration hit home with every kid – and adult – who watched or participated.

When you are young, drinking seems glamorous. When I was 18, I could drink beer legally. But I didn’t drink in high school; my parents drank, and for me there was no mystery – or glamour – to it. It was just something adults did.

And it was long before MADD and other groups started working to educate the public about the dangers of drinking and driving. We KNEW there were dangers, but the my friends and I worried most about when we were older was getting pulled over by the cops.

Drinking really isn’t glamorous. If you drink too much, it convinces you do some stupid things; and if you’re lucky, the worst is it will make you very sick for awhile.

Principal Stirling Sampson said it best Friday afternoon: Choosing to get behind the wheel of a vehicle after drinking alcohol – or doing drugs – is selfish. It’s a selfish decision, because if you have an accident, it affects far more people than just you. It affects your family, your friends; it affects anyone who was in your car and their families and friends.

So, prom is out of the way, and we made it through. But graduation is coming up, and I hope our seniors will keep all this in mind and be cautious while celebrating with their friends. 

If you need a reminder, drive on Interstate 71 past the sign that marks where the worst drunken-driving in U.S. history took 27 lives and ruined forever another.

Some of you graduating remember Kelly and know the pain we suffer when we lose loved ones or friends to car accidents – whether they involve alcohol or not.

So, please – make smart, self-less choices so that no one you love has to find out how painful life would be without you.

 Phyllis McLaughlin is interim editor of The Trimble Banner.