By Linda Holderness
Village Life correspondent
The statistics presented at the Town Hall Meeting on Underage Drinking at Oak Ridge High School were grim: Nearly 5,000 youths younger than 21 die each year because of alcohol, and nearly 2,000 of those deaths are the result of car accidents. More than one-third of all fatal crashes for underage drivers involve alcohol.
The El Dorado Hills Community Vision Coalition brought together the school, local organizations and public agencies to explore ways to reduce underage alcohol use at the May 10 event.
“We’re here because we want to save lives,” said DJ Peterson, Vision Coalition executive director. “We want to provide alternatives so young people don’t drink.”
The format consisted of nearly 20 presentations by groups committed to curbing youth alcohol use. The most powerful message opened the meeting: two minutes of a film in which two Oak Ridge students “died” in a real-time car accident.
The full film, produced through the Every 15 Minutes program, includes a Jaws of Life rescue, helicopter transport, body bags, even the arrest and sentencing of the drunk driver.
Erika Schiff, who “died” after being thrown through a windshield, told the audience the moment she was put into a real body bag was “life-changing.” Eric Jacobs, an innocent victim whose character wound up in a coma, and who in real life could not communicate with friends for two days as the scenario played out, said participating in the film “really scared me.”
“As a victim it makes me more cautious to drive because anything could happen to me,” he said.
After watching the film, Jacobs said several students invited to a year-end party with alcohol won’t go.
Gwen Durling, chief of the public safety and victim services division of the California Emergency Management Agency, offered some sobering facts. Alcohol consumption, for example, can change the structure and function of a youth’s developing brain.
Durling warned against mixing alcohol with popular caffeinated “energy drinks.” Alcohol sedates the brain of an adult, but it stimulates a young person’s brain. Mixing the two substances “is like a double shotgun,” she explained. A child’s body and brain can’t process both.
Other presenters included the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department; the California Highway Patrol; Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which serves victims and survivors of drunk driving; PARTY, which helps young students recognize risks and make informed choices before they can drive; and Hands 4 Hope, an Eldorado Hills-based program that offers teens acceptance and ways to help others.
“Kids who have a group or are accepted will stay away from drugs more than kids who don’t have a group or acceptance,” said freshman Andrew Bassett, son of H4H founder Jennifer Bassett.