California man tells students of bad choices that can alter a life

NEIGHBORS

May 10, 2000|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TEN YEARS ago, Brandon Silveriahad the world at his fingertips. A 17-year-old student at Los Gatos High School in Los Gatos, Calif., he got good grades. He was an accomplished athlete. He had a girlfriend, a job and a car.

"I was invincible," he said. "Nothing was going to happen to me. Wrong."

While driving home from a party where he had been drinking, Silveria was in a car accident. "I'll be paying for my choices for the rest of my life," he said.

Last week, with the help of his father, Tony Silveria, Brandon told his story to students at Wilde Lake High School, urging them to resist peer pressure and make the right choices.

May is National Prom-Graduation Safety Month, and the Silverias came to speak to students at Wilde Lake and Centennial high schools as part of a program sponsored by the Howard County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Century Council.

The Century Council is a nonprofit funded by some of America's leading distillers. The organization's mission is to fight drunken driving and underage drinking. The council's funding companies have invested more than $100 million over eight years in programs to fight the misuse of alcohol.

The most recent figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show Maryland as one of 21 states with an increase in younger-than-21 alcohol-related traffic fatalities. During 1997 and 1998, a 20.5 percent increase occurred in the rate of alcohol-related traffic fatalities for people younger than 21.

In 1998, the safety administration reported 38 alcohol-related traffic fatalities among those younger than 21 in Maryland and 2,730 fatalities nationwide.

On the day of the accident, Brandon Silveria and some friends went to a barbecue for the school's rowing team. Later that evening, they attended a party where witnesses remember that he drank two beers. "I just drank a couple of beers," he said. "It didn't seem like a big deal, but I didn't realize how tired I was."

After driving three of his friends home, Silveria fell asleep behind the wheel. His car hit a tree and was struck by another vehicle.

"Once the other car hit him, he broke the driver's side window with his head," his father said.

Brandon was taken to San Jose Medical Center, where he remained in a coma for more than two months. His weight dropped from 168 to 109 pounds. Once he regained consciousness, Brandon had to learn how to do everything again: walk, talk, think, swallow.

The accident left him with permanent head injuries. His short-term memory is severely limited, and his balance and gait are substantially impaired. When he speaks, he slurs his words and can be difficult to understand.

The head injuries have also made Silveria prone to seizures. Twice since the accident, Brandon has experienced prolonged comas caused by seizures. After each coma, he has to start from scratch, learning to walk and talk again.

After Brandon and his father spoke, students in the gym at Wilde Lake High watched a tape from the television series "Rescue 911," starring William Shatner. The video detailed Brandon Silveria's ordeal, from the crash to his years in a rehabilitation hospital.

Bill Hawken, 18, a senior at Wilde Lake, said Silveria's story made a strong impression on him. "It kind of made you think," he said. Although Hawken did not plan to attend the school prom, which was held Friday night at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotelin Baltimore, he said, "I know a lot of people who are going out and like having fun after the prom. It makes you think about the consequences."

CherisseDawson, 18, another senior, agreed. "That really had an impact on me," she said. "It made me cry. A lot of people think it's just a couple of drinks, and it won't have an effect. But it has a big effect, not only to just you, but to your entire family and the whole community."

Dawson was going ahead with her prom plans. "I'm just glad that I don't drink or smoke so I don't have anything to worry about, and neither does my date," she said.

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