Couple share son’s death with school, offer warning

Parents seek pledges to abstain from alcohol

5/16/2013
BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Brian and Cindy Hoeflinger speak to Ottawa Hills High School students and parents about their son senior Brian Hoeflinger, who died in a drunk-driving accident in February. The couple asked teens to sign a pledge to not drink alcohol.
Brian and Cindy Hoeflinger speak to Ottawa Hills High School students and parents about their son senior Brian Hoeflinger, who died in a drunk-driving accident in February. The couple asked teens to sign a pledge to not drink alcohol.

Statistics flashed on a screen and video images, both heartwarming and stark, illustrated the message Brian Hoeflinger's parents brought to their son's friends, to parents, to community members Wednesday in Ottawa Hills High School: teens and drinking don't mix.

Mr. Hoeflinger, 18, a senior at Ottawa Hills High, died Feb. 1 when his car drove off Edgehill Road in the village and struck a tree. His blood-alcohol level of 0.15 was nearly double the legal limit for drivers age 21 or older, but 7 1/2 times the 0.02 limit for those under 21.

His father, Dr. Brian Hoeflinger, began by telling the audience of nearly 500 in the high school auditorium that he and his wife, Dr. Cynthia Hoeflinger, were married 21 years ago Wednesday.

"We never thought our lives would end up like this, certainly," his father said.

A video, "Remembering Brian Hoeflinger," showed a boy playing youth baseball and on vacation with his parents and siblings, of playing on the school golf team, of the university acceptance letter written just days after his death. Liquor bottles lined up on a store shelf appeared next, then a single bottle of vodka; the roadway Mr. Hoeflinger's car traveled; the wrecked and charred vehicle; his open casket. The final shot is of Mr. Hoeflinger again on a golf course.

His parents were inspired to action by a  comment left for the family by someone who never knew their son, but spoke of his sense of loss -- and of a community brought together after the death.

"Behind the statistics there's a real life, a real family," his father said. He presented statistics of the rate of teen drinking, of binge drinking -- in long-term consequences to health and deaths in crashes.

"Brian is one of those statistics," his father said. "He never thought it would happen to him, and neither did we."

Cousin Katie McKernen, right, reads the pledge that Brian and Cindy Hoeflinger, left, wrote in repsonse to their sons death in a drunk-driving accident in February.
Cousin Katie McKernen, right, reads the pledge that Brian and Cindy Hoeflinger, left, wrote in repsonse to their sons death in a drunk-driving accident in February.

His mother added later: "For us it will never ever go away. You all know that. And we don't want it to happen to anybody else."

The Hoeflingers called on parents to take a pledge to ensure non-alcoholic beverages are available when teens are socializing, to supervise home gatherings -- and to exchange contact information and welcome calls from other parents. Students were encouraged to sign a pledge not to drink alcohol or use other drugs and not to get in a car with someone under the influence.

Sports teams rescheduled or canceled games for the event, a testament to the importance of the message, said high school Principal Ben McMurray.

"I hope it's a springboard for a conversation for students, parents, community leaders. But I think it needs to develop into an action plan," Mr. McMurray said. "Their message is not new, but I hope it's heard differently."

Mr. Hoeflinger's parents have given similar presentations at St. Francis de Sales High School and St. Ursula Academy. They plan to continue speaking out next academic year, and some school districts have expressed interest.

Photo provided by the family of Brian Hoeflinger
Photo provided by the family of Brian Hoeflinger

"We think it's the right thing to do," his father said after the event Wednesday. "There's been so much energy around Brian's death. Maybe this will be the catalyst to start something with teens and drinking." 

Jeff Lingo, chief of the criminal division for the Lucas County Prosecutor’s office, said Wednesday that he is still waiting to see the investigation done by the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

“When we have received the file and have reviewed it, we’ll make a determination as to whether or not it should be presented to the Lucas County grand jury,” Mr. Lingo said. “If there are no felony charges then it will be referred to the appropriate municipal court.”

He declined to comment on who might be charged.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.