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Inside the gleaming casket, complete with a sign stating "Reserved for the next drunk driving victim," Maumee High School students were shocked to see themselves.
A mirror in the casket reflected the students' faces during a day-long awareness and prevention program aimed at reminding teens not to drink and drive, particularly during the season for proms and graduation parties. The casket was there to drive home the reminder of the permanent, life changing impact of drinking and driving.
"A casket in general gives you the creeps. You are not expecting to see that unless someone really is dead," said senior Anne Rodriguez. She and other students paid close attention to a powerful, personal presentation by Jeremiah Newson, 25, of Grand Rapids, Mich., who travels across the country and around the globe telling about how his decision to drive drunk on prom night resulted in not only injury to himself, but to permanent injuries to two of his closest friends.
Mr. Newson told about how he and his buddies went out and partied on prom night. "We got hammered," he said. The girls in the group didn't drink; they went home safely in a limousine.
With his best friend, Bob, in the passenger seat, Mr. Newson challenged their friend Christian, who was riding a motorcycle, to a race. "We blew through a red light and we were hit by a bus," Mr. Newson recalled. The leg of one of the friends was severed; the other friend, among other injuries, broke his back. Both use wheelchairs today.
Mr. Newson, who broke his left ankle and right knee, was sentenced to a year in jail; was ordered to attend AA meetings for a year, and was fined $30,000 after being found guilty on a charge of minor in possession, he said.
Now, "I travel all over the world, learning people about the dangers of drinking and driving," he said, shortly before another group of students arrived in the auditorium to participate in hands-on activities as part of the National Save a Life tour -- High Impact Alcohol Awareness Program.
He stood near the casket on the school's stage where students approached him to say thank you for sharing his story. "The casket is used for its shock value, as the final resting place for drunk drivers," he said, adding the casket, too, represents "all of the people drunk drivers could have put in there."
Markus Lindsey, 18, asked Mr. Newson if he was still friends with the two boys who were injured, and the speaker answered yes. Markus was glad to hear that. "Life isn't good without a friend."
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At the other end of the auditorium, Maumee Police Lt. Mike Noble conducted sobriety tests as students wore "fatal vision goggles" that distort a person's vision similar to how alcohol impairs a person's senses.
Lieutenant Noble said initially, he was going to just set up an informational table about the importance of obeying the law requiring seat belt use, but he decided to give students a first-hand look at how law enforcement officials conduct sobriety tests. He put down a line of duct tape and directed students, who were wearing the "fatal vision goggles," to walk nine steps, heel to toe, down and back. He gave other instructions too, designed to test the "sobriety."
Drivers who are intoxicated have difficulty following directions and have trouble staying on the line.
"The whole point is if you can't even walk a straight line, how can you safely operate a five-ton automobile?" he said.
Senior Kurt Kolbow said it was interesting to wear the goggles "to see how things look if you've been drinking." The presentation by Mr. Newson "was very insightful, and the other things, the videos, the simulation games, are helpful too."
Vivid footage from TV shows reinforced Mr. Newson's message. One video told the story of a woman who was disfigured after she was seriously burned in a crash caused by a drunk driver.
The program was sponsored by the Maumee SAIL. (Substance Abuse Intervention League) board, the St. Luke's Hospital Foundation, and the Old Newsboys Goodfellow Association.
It provided students with a serious message and gave them a chance to take part in interesting hands-on activities as well, said Don Adamski, employee/community assistance coordinator with St. Luke's Hospital, Mr. Adamski, who is a consultant to Maumee SAIL, said he appreciated the Maumee High School teachers' cooperation that allowed students time out of class to participate in the program.
On the nearby stage, students took turns driving a simulator with a one-second delay on its brakes, steering wheel, and accelerator. "It shows people what could happen when their reactions are delayed by drinking," Mr. Newson explained.
Clearly, said senior Liz Schuster, the message was that students shouldn't drink, and if they do, "don't ever get behind the wheel of a car."