The dark reality of drunk driving

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 2, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Early Tuesday morning, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy student Ashley Anderson was killed in a car accident, hit by a drunk driver.

Only half an hour later, her classmate Lindsay Austin suffered a similar fate. Soon after, Alex Westfall, Minka Foster and Matt Tuttle were killed as well.

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All day, death stalked the hallways of the private school. By day’s end, 12 students and an instructor had lost their lives to alcohol.

Fortunately for the NSA community, none of it was real – it was all part of the `Grim Reaper Day,’ an event put on by the school’s Students Against Drunk Driving Club. Unfortunately, for an estimated 45 people a day, it’s a dark reality.

Every 31 minutes, a person dies in an alcohol-related crash. Last year, 17,013 people were killed in alcohol-related car accidents.

On Tuesday, the Grim Reaper – a faculty member – stalked into classrooms throughout NSA’s upper school. The reaper, with a skull countenance shining forth an evil grin and armed with a sickle, bestowed the touch of death upon students.

The students, adorned in a black T-shirt declaring their death, were forbidden to speak for the remainder of the day.

As the afternoon wound down, the dead were taken to the school gym, and put on display as upper school students crowded onto the bleachers. One by one, each lost student was eulogized by their friends.

&uot;She always saw the best side of people,&uot; Katie Murphy said of Austin. &uot;She was, is, and always will be my best friend. She taught me that to defeat the hard times, we must face them, and even now, she is still teaching me.&uot;

Then Murphy walked to her friend’s body and slowly covered it with a sheet.

&uot;She was always smiling,&uot; said Alexis Taves, bidding farewell to Westfall. &uot;She excelled in soccer, and was a dedicated volleyball player. She will never know the affect she had on the world.&uot;

After the ceremony, some of the resurrected students, all of whom were SADD members, looked back on their near-death experiences.

&uot;It was awkward,&uot; said Cooper. &uot;It just makes you want to make the right decisions. It shows what can happen to you and your family.&uot;

Anderson had a tough time adjusting to a day of silence.

&uot;It was hard at first,&uot; said the eighth-grader. &uot;People tried to provoke you to talk, and you just had to stare at them. But this really got the point across that this is something people have to deal with and how fast your life can change.&uot;

The event was just one more event that SADD has sponsored to teach students about the dangers of drunk driving. At the prom a few years ago, a car accident was staged, complete with bloody, &uot;dead&uot; bodies, and the Nightingale helicopter rescue service was called from Norfolk General Hospital.

Another year,

a panoramic film was shown in the gym.

&uot;It makes an impact because of the way they react,&uot; said the reaper, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. &uot;Some of the laughed nervously, and others didn’t know how to react, but no one can ignore the presence of the figure that represents tragedy, death and misfortune.

&uot;People in perfectly good health, in the prime of their lives, can be taken away, and people need to know how quickly death can strike.

&uot;To their classmates, it’s as if they’re not there,&uot; Death said of the silence. &uot;It makes them pause and think that this could happen, and that it seems to happen almost randomly.

&uot;It’s not a consequence of anything they’ve done; they’re just the next victim. &uot;The impression we want to leave with students is that they don’t want to be the drunk drivers.&uot;