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EDITORIAL: Lesson about staying sober, saving lives must not be forgotten

Times West Virginian editorial

In the midst of tragedy, we often have to ask ourselves the one question that’s hard to answer. “Why?”

Unfortunately, when it comes to teen deaths in automobile accidents, there is a regrettable answer. Alcohol is the greatest cause of death for young people in motor vehicle accidents. And 40 percent of all fatal accidents are alcohol related.

In the midst of prom season, the Marion County Rescue Squad pinpointed North Marion High School as the first place to do a mock DUI event this spring — others are being planned at Fairmont Senior High School and East Fairmont High School.

Any motorist driving to North Marion on Monday probably saw a wrecked car. They also witnessed several rescue squad vehicles, several different police departments, a fire department, as well as HealthNet. A teenage boy was the victim of this accident.

That would be some scene for drivers to stumble upon even if it was a mock DUI being staged.

But to really bring it home, the Grim Reaper pulled aside classmates during the day. These students then dressed in black and painted their faces white and stayed silent the rest of the day. These students represented people who have died in a drunk driving-related accident. They wore signs around their necks with the pictures, names and stories of victims of drunk driving.

There were 13 students. This is the number of people that die in about a 13- or 14-hour time period due to a drunk-driving-related accident.

Those emergency workers who helped with the mock DUI are personally touched by the training because they’ve experienced the tragedy that can happen when people choose to drink and drive.

For Marion County Rescue Squad public relations director JoAnna McBee, it was the loss of her cousin two years ago. He was riding with friends, and the driver was drunk. He was ejected from the vehicle and was left on the side of the road by his friends, she said.

“I was pretty mad because your friends are supposed to be there for you,” she said. “Your friends are supposed to be there and have your back and take care of you. His friends weren’t there.”

Farmington Volunteer Fire Department safety officer Jim Toothman cannot forget a horrific scene that affected his community.

In the 1970s, the VFD responded to a DUI wreck in West Farmington.

“The car (had) come off the road, rolled up on its side, hit a tree, slid down the tree and back on its wheels,” Toothman said. “The two (people) in the front seat, (we) took care of them and didn’t even realize there was anybody in the back seat yet. Once we got them taken care of, we looked in the back seat. Of course the top of the car was down to the top of the door. We were able to move it enough to see there was somebody back there. Those children in the back seat were dead.”

The driver’s brother and the sister of the person riding in front were in the back seat, and they were all on a double date. The driver was drunk.

“(That) got me the desire to help out with this stuff,” Toothman said.

It isn’t “just a few beers” when lives are at risk.

It’s a big deal, and we hope students took the lesson to heart. Just one alcoholic beverage can impair judgement and dull reflexes. It isn’t about keeping below the .08 blood alcohol content limit — it’s about staying sober and saving lives.

We hope those images of twisted metal and emergency responders and their classmates taken by death are something students will carry with them throughout their adult lives.

It is a lesson that should never be forgotten.

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