Grim Reaper highlights campaign against prom-season drunken driving

May 15, 1994|By Gregory P. Kane | Gregory P. Kane,Sun Staff Writer

On Friday the 13th, the Grim Reaper loomed behind the smashed remains of a Toyota Corolla in front of Archbishop Spalding High School in hopes of dramatizing the dangers of drunken driving.

In front of and beside him stood members of the school's Students Against Drunk Driving chapter and several county and police officials assembled to launch the sixth annual Operation S.A.V.E. (Selected Alcohol Violations Enforcement).

Under the program, county police use a grant from the state Department of Transportation to put extra officers on the street during prom and graduation season to be on the lookout for youthful drunken drivers, said Officer Randy Bell, a police spokesman.

"Today through June 30 extra guys in marked and unmarked vehicles will be on the street every Thursday through Friday," he said.

In addition, all 12 county liquor inspectors will be keeping a close eye on bars and handing out citations to those that sell to minors and to the minors, too, said Thomas Riggin, the liquor board chairman. And they won't confine themselves to the bars, he said.

"If, for example, Meade High School was having a prom, they'd sit on the parking lot and wait for young people and watch their actions. [Inspectors] will be more active in areas where the proms are held," Mr. Riggin said.

The inspectors will have more muscle this year because they are authorized to give citations to teens who buy alcohol as well as to the bars that sell alcohol to them under a law that became effective Oct. 1. The bar and the teen-ager each could be fined $500.

"If we're serious about [teen-age drinking], we're going to hold everybody accountable," said state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, the Brooklyn Park Democrat who sponsored the measure.

Frank R. Weathersbee, the county state's attorney, promised that his office would "prosecute to the fullest extent that we can" anyone who drinks and drives, particularly during the prom and graduation season.

Mr. Weathersbee said his office prosecutes an estimated 3,000 drunken driving cases a year.

Capt. Richard Smith, commander of the Southern District, filled in at the program for Chief Robert P. Russell, who could not attend.

"Chief Russell is committed to making this prom season a safe season," Captain Smith said.

Rebecca Irvine, a 16-year-old sophomore member of Spalding's S.A.D.D. chapter, said it has organized other events to highlight the hazards of drinking and driving.

But other members conceded that they would not be completely successful in persuading their classmates not to drink.

"There's always going to be the kid who gets jelly-plastered," said Sten Witzel, a 15-year-old sophomore. But he added that if S.A.D.D. reached one student, the effort would be worthwhile.

Becky Wilke, a 17-year-old junior and vice president of the Spalding chapter, agreed.

"There's always going to be the group of kids you can't get through to," she said, noting that teen drinking at her school is kept to a minimum.

"If you are caught drinking on school property or at a school function, you won't graduate," Ms. Wilke said.

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