By Karen Billing
A car, folded up into itself, the windshield shattered and bent, sat at the center of the Carmel Valley Middle School campus during its busy lunch period last week.
Its driver, a 37-year-old male who had a blood alcohol level of .08, was driving southbound on Interstate 5 near Lomas Santa Fe when he veered off the freeway and ran into the back of a disabled box truck. His injuries were moderate to severe but he was convicted of felony drunk driving, receiving a two-year prison sentence.
The car was a “crash car,” part of the school’s Red Ribbon Week demonstrations.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 31 percent of traffic deaths are attributed to DUIs in California, with 950 fatalities this year. An average drunk driver has driven drunk 87 times before their first arrest.
Keeping in mind that the statistics say one in three eighth-graders drinks alcohol, having a “crash car” at CVMS was a good reminder that alcohol use can have devastating, sometimes deadly consequences.
“The guy didn’t die, he only got a two-year prison sentence, I thought it would’ve been more,” said seventh grader Erin Coogan, “ I think the car was really good at sending out a message to everyone, it attracted a lot of kids’ attention.”
“It made me not want to ever drink and drive,” said seventh grader Ethan Uno.
Erin and Ethan are part of the Heroes class at CVMS, a leadership and service class that played a big part in planning this year’s Red Ribbon Week.
Students apply to be a part of the class, run by teacher Jaime Swope. The inaugural class was held last year and rave reviews from Ethan’s brother encouraged him to join. Others were drawn to the class for its community service element.
“My teacher recommended it, she thought it would be a good fit because I like to help,” Samantha Montalbano said.
Last Monday, the Heroes came to school early to help prepare the campus for Red Ribbon Week with posters and ribbons.
“We set up activities at the stage every day to show how bad drugs and alcohol can be and how good it can be without them,” Erin said.
At school on Thursday, students participated in a lunchtime kickboxing class, demonstrating just one way to get a healthy, natural high. Another day they had a contest to see which student could wear the most red — Hero Kendra Checketts won, dressed in red down to her socks and shoes.
The group also took part in daily announcements, Ethan said, sharing statistics and information on drugs and alcohol.
Heroes spread the message of Red Ribbon Week throughout the year, participating in Club Live, visiting local elementary schools to talk about problem solving, bullying and staying drug and alcohol free.
Kendra said that while she doesn’t know many classmates who use drugs or drink alcohol, it’s never too soon to send a message.
“I don’t think kids know what can happen; drugs can do a lot to your life,” Kendra said. “It’s good to inform them now so they won’t do it later.”