Opinion: Assembly attempts to shock students into good choices

Jeff Burkhead
Jeff Burkhead

The week of the Rangely High School prom, there was an assembly for students.
This was not a typical school assembly or pep rally.
The message presented to students was sobering and heartbreaking. And that was the point.
The program — co-sponsored by local and county agencies — was intended to get students’ attention. To make them think. To encourage them to make good decisions.
And even to shock them.
“It was intense,” said Sgt. Roy Kinney, Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office investigator, who helped to organize the program. “There were a lot of tears.”
The assembly at Rangely Junior/Senior High School was put on by the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office, Rangely Emergency Medical Services, Rangely Fire and Police Departments, Rangely District Hospital, Rio Blanco County Coroner’s Office, Rio Blanco County Health Department, Rio Blanco Funeral Homes and Colorado State Patrol, as well as local businesses. Seventh- through 12th-grade students attended.
Dottie Stoner and Betsy Miner were two of the speakers. Dottie’s stepson Austin, a former Rangely student, died April 19, 2009, from an overdose of alcohol and morphine pills. He was 18.
“She brought Austin (to the assembly),” sheriff’s investigator Kinney said. “He had been cremated and she set his ashes on the podium. It was very powerful.”
The assembly was held almost a year ago to the day Austin Stoner died.
“It was almost a year to the date … and his friends were out celebrating his life by drinking,” Dottie Stoner said. “I don’t know what else to tell you, other than putting my friend in the ground would make me stop drinking.”
Dottie said she will continue to urge Austin’s friends and other students to make good choices.
“I will keep doing whatever I have to do to hopefully change someone’s mind,” Dottie said. “They make their own choices. Even Austin made his own choice. They think it won’t happen to them. I truly don’t think Austin intended for this to happen, either.”
Betsy Miner, whose daughter Celena was paralyzed in a one-vehicle accident two years ago today, also spoke.
“I felt like we made an impact,” Betsy Miner said. “We just talked to them about how our life changed in an instant … the things Celena can’t do now and the things she misses.”
Celena graduated from RHS last May. She also spoke at the April 20 assembly, addressing some of the same students she used to walk to class with, or they played on the volleyball team together.
Betsy Miner said her daughter told the Rangely students, “Look at me. I’m still human. But people stare at me when I go out in public, and it makes me uncomfortable. I stay in my house. I can’t get up and take a shower on my own. Everything in my life revolves around somebody helping me. When I graduated, I wanted to be a nurse.”
That all changed two years ago.
Betsy Miner told Rangely students about how Celena’s life — and the lives of her family — were forever altered in that one moment.
“Our lives were changed in an instant,” Betsy Miner said of the accident.
Celena and her brother Micheal were together at the time. They had driven to Vernal, Utah, so Celena could buy a graduation present for her boyfriend at the time. The accident occurred just outside of Vernal. Celena was driving. They weren’t wearing seat belts.
“I don’t think they ever determined why or what happened,” Betsy Miner said. “They went off the road. She overcorrected and her car went airborne. She doesn’t remember it at all.”
Micheal spent the night in the hospital in Grand Junction. He had to have stitches in his leg, his ear and was in shock. But he ended up being fine, Betsy Miner said, although he still has a blind spot in one eye.
Celena’s neck was broken. She was paralyzed. She’s been confined to a wheelchair ever since.
The event was life-altering for both Celena and Micheal, but in different ways.
“He was in the car with her. He doesn’t remember the accident,” Betsy Miner said. “Look at Micheal, he walked away from it. But he has to deal with the fact of how his sister’s life changed.”
Celena was 17 at the time of the accident. She’s 19 now.
“There are still days when she asks why, when she says, ‘Mom, do you think I’ll ever walk again?’” Betsy Miner said.
Celena Miner eventually returned to school and managed to graduate with her class last year. She now lives on her own in an apartment at the Radino Center, but has to depend on others to help her with the most basic tasks.
At the assembly, images of Celena before the accident were shown on a big screen. Then students were shown pictures of Celena after the accident, on a ventilator in the hospital and in a wheelchair.
“If these kids think it won’t happen to them, think again,” Betsy Miner said. “It can happen to anybody.”

Mike Brennan of Meeker recently accompanied his father, Bill, on the Western Slope Honor Flight trip, May 4 and 5, where World War II veterans from northwest Colorado could tour the war memorials in Washington, D.C. Jerry Wilber of Meeker also went. Jerry, who is wheelchair bound, was accompanied by a nurse from the Walbridge Wing, Anita Peters.
“I would have to rate the Honor Flight experience with my father and all the other vets as one of the most memorable, gratifying and emotionally moving experiences of my life,” Mike Brennan said. “If I could afford to do so, I would extend my services as guardian — those of us who went along to assist the veterans — again. The profoundly moving experience of physically being present at these great memorials is beyond description. It is so far above simply viewing pictures and videos of them that it is impossible to offer a comparison. These great national treasures — and I include all veterans — should, if at all possible, be experienced by everyone. There were a great many occasions that evoked tears of emotion in most, if not all of those in attendance, both veterans and guardians. The hero’s welcome when we returned to the airport in Grand Junction was absolutely astounding.
“Originally, I was not overly enthused about going, due to a severe ‘allergy’ to cities, but I definitely wanted my dad to attend since he missed the chance to go last year, due to circumstances beyond his control,” Mike Brennan said. “Having attended, it is an experience I would now not trade for anything.”
Mary Ann Wilber was unable to go on the Honor Flight trip with her uncle Jerry Wilber, so she asked Anita Peters to accompany him to D.C.
“He had a wonderful time. The people were just wonderful,” Mary Ann said. “There were all kinds of volunteers to help him. He had to have his oxygen and was in a wheelchair … there were 25 (veterans) in wheelchairs”
Mary Ann was at the airport when Jerry and the other veterans returned.
“That was spectacular. They had shoulder to shoulder people,” Mary Ann said. “I’ve never seen that airport that crowded. They had a band in tuxedos. It was just a very memorable thing. They shook the veterans’ hands as they came off the plane. Gerald loved every minute. I can’t say enough about what a wonderful thing this was for these veterans.”
Tom Kilduff, commander of Meeker VFW Post 5843, helped to organize the trip for local veterans.

A rebirth of Meeker’s After-Birth Ball — now, there’s a name for you — is set for May 22 at the Fairfield Center.
The event was first initiated in the 1970s as a way to celebrate the end of calving and lambing season, but was discontinued. Until now.
Sam Stranathan, a rancher himself and former manager at the Upper Colorado Environmental Plant Center, decided it was time to revive the event as a way to honor and recognize the historical importance of ranching in the White River Valley. The Meeker Chamber of Commerce jumped on board as did several energy companies — EnCana, Enterprise, Mesa, Whiting and Williams — which are helping to sponsor the event.
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Speaking of Williams, The Denver Post reported last week that “Williams reduced its Piceance Basin natural-gas production over the past 12 months by 11 percent, but company officials said there would be a 7 to 10 percent expansion in production overall in 2010. Last year, Williams had seven rigs in the Piceance, but now has 10 and plans to complete 70 wells that were closed last year.”

Joe Gutierrez of Meeker received this message from Russell Stacy, owner of Strawberry Creek Outfitters, about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Russell lives in Louisiana. Joe is a guide for Strawberry Creek. The message was originally sent from a professor at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La., whose father has experience in the oil drilling business.
“This is a drilling rig that usually has approximately 300 to 350 men on it. All were evacuated to safety, except for the 11 who lost their lives. The 11 who lost their lives choose to stay behind and try to fix the problem. They were the most experienced drillers and deckhands. The problem was caused by human error — someone did not do what they were supposed to do and all of this ensued. He said that when the explosion happened, the 11 men would not have known what happened and they will not be found because of the size of the explosion.
“Pop is also an oil spill expert and has many certifications in how to do cleanup after an oil spill has occurred. Everything that he told me last week has and is happening. As you may have seen, they tried to burn the oil off the water — which Pop said was the best-case scenario if you can get EPA, etc. to sign off on it; however, it did not work because of high winds and waves. So now, they have to wait for a new oil rig to be put into place and mudded to cover the hole spilling out oil — this can and usually does take up to two months. Pop said that once all is said and done, this will be worse than the Valdez spill in Alaska.”

Harry Watt didn’t go to jail.
“Not yet,” he said Monday.
Watt has been feuding with the town of Meeker over a sign for the Blue Spruce Hotel that is painted on the side of a truck Watt has had parked at times at Watt’s Ranch Market.
“I haven’t heard a word,” said Watt, adding he had been warned he faced a possible fine and arrest for violating a town ordinance.
“If they throw me in jail, there will be a big protest on the courthouse lawn, ‘Free Harry,’” Watt said.

Here are comments from some of the winners in last week’s Meeker elections for the hospital and recreation boards.
“I feel honored that the people choose me to represent an important asset to our community. I feel we have a very diverse board that will continue to support the growth of the recreation center. I look forward to working with Scott (Pierson, director) and all the employees of the center,” said Kris Arcolesse, the top vote-getter in the election for the recreation board. Zach Clatterbaugh was also elected as a new member to the recreation board.
“I want to thank the people of the hospital district for their vote of confidence in allowing me to serve on the board of directors. It is a honor to serve the people of the district and it is my desire that I will be an effective board member,” said Todd Young, who was elected as a new member to the hospital board. Michael Hoke was also elected as a new member to the hospital board.
“I want to take the opportunity to thank the Meeker folks who voted for me. I am excited about serving for another four years. This is a great time for the district to expand and partner with other local entities to give the community even more opportunity for usage and special events and programs. It should be an exciting time for the ERBM Rec District and the very qualified staff,” said Dale Hallebach, a returning member to the recreation board.
“A sincere thank you to the voters for their ‘vote’ of confidence. We will continue to focus on improving customer service, billing and finding new revenue streams to solidify our financial position for the years to come,” said Paul “Buckshot” Sheridan, who was re-elected to the hospital board.
“Pioneers Medical Center will always have challenges, but they also have many opportunities. I will make every effort to be a productive member of the board of directors and thank the community for the support shown to me in the election,” said Diane Dunham, the top vote-getter in the hospital election and a returning member to the board.

Now that the weather is finally warming up and people are doing more outdoor activities, this reminder was sent in from a reader:
“With spring here, people are out riding their bikes. With this activity, people need to remember to practice good bike safety and wear helmets.”
Have fun out there … and be safe.

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at jeff@theheraldtimes.com.