Northwest News

Teens hear sobering facts on "grim reaper" day

The grim reapers of drunken driving and bad decision-making could have filled a cemetery section Friday with some of the best and brightest at Clover Park High School.

With the tap of a shoulder or the curl of an outstretched finger, black-robed reapers of death summoned 29 teens who “died” in accidents with an impaired driver at the wheel.

Thank goodness, it was all a staged tragedy. These kids will return to their families, go to college, join the military or live out whatever dream they cherish.

Thousands of other teens have not been so lucky, students at the Lakewood high school learned Friday.

The school’s Prevention Club and Leadership Club held a “grim reaper” day designed to remind teens of the life-changing hazards of underage drinking, drug abuse and risky behavior as they prepare for today’s senior prom.

Clover Park is one of several South Sound high schools mounting dramatic, in-your-face productions as the prom and graduation season gets into full swing. Among other examples:

 • In Federal Way on Friday, students at Todd Beamer High School watched a re-enactment of a three-car drunken driving accident, complete with response from actual police, paramedics and firetrucks. A helicopter even pretended to lift one student actor to a hospital.Today is the school’s senior prom.

 • At Washington High School in Parkland, the school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club organized an assembly May 15, the day before the prom. It featured two young adults left paralyzed after making poor decisions in their teen years. One man had crashed his motorcycle on the way to buy drugs; the other speaker was intoxicated at a party when she dived into a pool with two feet of water and broke her neck.

 • Gig Harbor High School held its annual DUI week leading up to the May 2 prom. It included an activity similar to Clover Park’s grim reaper event, plus a drug-dog search for planted drugs, a mock car crash and a funeral for one of the student faux-victims. The funeral had a real casket covered with floral sprays and eulogies by the victim’s real-life parents and friends.

Eleanor Ledbetter, Gig Harbor’s school activity coordinator, thinks the annual awareness week makes a difference. The school has held the week for at least nine years.

“We haven’t had a DUI accident or death related to DUIs (at the prom) since we’ve been doing this,” she said.

Gig Harbor student D.J. Anderson Vent wanted to provide a measure of proof, so as part of her senior project she surveyed students before and after the DUI week. The teens said the events had affected their decision-making for the better.

RISK ON ROAD FOR TEEN DRIVERS

Traffic statistics bear out the higher risks teen drivers face on the road, especially if they’re drunk or high.

Between 2000 and 2007, 16- to 20-year-old drivers, who comprise 6.5 percent of licensed drivers, were involved in 14.3 percent of the state’s fatal collisions, according to the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission.

Male drivers 16 to 20 years old who were drinking but whose blood-alcohol level was under the limit for a legal adult were 15 times more likely to die in a crash than a sober driver the same age.

Fatalities involving teen drivers who drink were highest in June and July.

Nationwide, someone dies in an accident involving a driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol every 15 minutes, said Clover Park prevention intervention specialist Parma Osario.

MAKING THE LOSS TANGIBLE

The statistics were given a dramatic portrayal at Clover Park on Friday.

Five students dressed in long, black capes separately visited classrooms every 15 minutes to fetch a victim.

Minutes later, the students returned to class wearing a black T-shirt that read “Don’t be a statistic.” Hanging from each neck was a placard with a photo and description of an actual teen who had died in a driver-impaired accident.

At 6-foot-1, Tyler Rohr struck an imposing reaper in his Darth Vader-like cape. He elicited oohs and ahhs among some classmates, and giggles among others as he summoned a DUI victim.

“It’s a good way to spread the knowledge of the power of drinking and drugs,” the 10th-grader said. “Two of my friends died from drug overdoses.”

STORIES SHARED

The day ended with an assembly for juniors and seniors. The DUI victims and grim reapers lined the stage as two sets of actual family members spoke about the pain of losing a loved one to a DUI accident. Students signed a pledge to stay sober when driving, to refuse to ride with an impaired driver and to keep friends from driving drunk or high.

They heard how 18-year-old Alicia Brianne Reynon sneaked out of her house to party with her younger brother and an 18-year-old friend. Alicia and the 18-year-old, who was at the wheel, died after a fiery crash – a week before her prom and six weeks before graduation.

“When Alicia was killed, she not only took her life but everything we were hoping for her,” said her mother, Sharon Reynon of Puyallup. “Her death, which was 100 percent preventable, took that away from us.”

Reynon urged the teens not to party with drugs or alcohol – yet if they do, to leave with a sober driver, or best of all, call their parent for a ride.

“They might be mad at you, you might be on restriction till graduation, but it’s a lot better than saying goodbye to your child like this,” she said, raising the picture of Alicia’s casket.

Sergio Aguilar, a senior, will be at tonight’s prom at the Hotel Murano in Tacoma. He said he wouldn’t imbibe in drugs or alcohol. But he knew of other people talking about showing up high or tipsy.

“It’s very helpful,” he said. “It’s really good they’re doing this the night before the event, so people can think, ‘wow that thing I had planned, I’m not going to do it,’” he said after the assembly.

“Look at how these people feel when they’re sharing their stories. They reached out to us.”

Debby Abe: 253-597-8694

debby.abe@thenewstribune.com

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