Before Mt. Hope High School juniors and seniors head out for their class proms, Rebecca White, whose life was tragically altered by a drunk driver, shared some sobering thoughts with a room full of students and their parents.
“Teen alcohol use kills about 6,000 people each year,” Ms. White told her audience.
Ms. White’s mother and her best friend, Katy, are among them.
She, along with representatives from the Bristol and Warren police departments, were invited to be guest speakers at a pre-prom dinner organized by members of Mt. Hope High School STAAND organization. The group, Students Taking Action Against Negative Decisions, was formed based on principles of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD).
“We try to raise awareness,” said STAAND member Jessica Medeiros.
While attendees dined on a macaroni dinner at Jacky’s Galaxie, Marissa Ursini, STAAND president, and other members encouraged their classmates to pledge to have an alcohol- and drug-free prom experience.
Bristol Police Chief Josue Canario addressed the teens and concerned parents who listened intently.
“We’d like them to make good decisions. Be leaders, not followers,” Chief Canario said.
The difference in making those decisions could be having a good memory of prom night versus tragic reminders.
But raising awareness isn’t just about abstinence, as Ms. White attested to. In an effort to help the high school students understand the importance of making positive decisions, she retold her experience as a middle school student riding in a car.
“It was Oct. 29, 1999,” Ms. White said. “A Friday afternoon.”
She sat in the passenger seat, her mother drove, and her friend, Katy, sat in the back as they traveled up Route 4 from their home in Narragansett.
“We were on the way to the mall,” Ms. White said. “We felt a bump and were being pushed. I remember the car going across the grass and then seeing cars coming toward us. Then everything went black,” she said.
When she awoke there were flashing lights, and rescue crews hovered over her. She recalls being placed into an ambulance and rushed away to be treated for a fractured jaw and a cut over her ear.
“I asked if my mother and Katy were OK,” she said.
The rescue workers gave her a vague answer.
At the hospital she asked again. She recalled her brother slumped in the corner of the hospital room sobbing as her father broke the news that her mother and best friend had died in the crash.
Then she recalled the wakes and funerals that followed.
“It was four days of hell,” she said. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of my mom and Katy. I hope and pray that none of you will have to go through what I had to.”
Lauren Ferreira, who attended the pre-prom event with her daughter Cheryl, echoed the thoughts of many of the parents whose children tend to avoid risky behaviors.
“I think I worry more about other people and other drivers. That is a great concern,” Ms. Ferreira said.
Police in Bristol and Warren, as well as departments across the state, are well aware of both the pleasant memories and the tragic ones that can occur during prom season.
“The message is to be safe, be responsible, make the right decisions so (tragedy) doesn’t happen,” said Warren Police Lt. Roland Brule.
To help keep impaired drivers off the road, the Bristol police department maintains an anonymous tip line where people can report drunk or high drivers, as well as other unsafe activity. That number is 254-2229.
Warren police monitor an anonymous e-mail tip line, [email protected] where people can report dangerous drivers or other activities.
“The goal is to help the kids have happy memories,” Chief Canario said.