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MEEKER I If the purpose was to shock, it worked.
Graphic images of victims of alcohol- and drug-related accidents and accident victims who didn’t wear seatbelts were shown on a big screen during an assembly last week at Meeker High School. The images had the desired effect on students.
“We learned the hard way to wear our seatbelts. After the presentation, we went to lunch, with everyone wearing their seatbelt,” said MHS student Calvin “Ty” Shepherd.
“I’ve worn my seatbelt ever since I saw the consequences of not wearing it. I learned a lesson from the graphic pictures,” said student Hadley Stewart.
The images were presented along with personal stories told by 2009 Rangely High School graduate Celena Miner, Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s investigator Roy Kinney, Deputy District Attorney Gene Tardy and Meeker police officer Mike Washburn.
Miner was paralyzed from the waist down after being involved in a one-vehicle accident in May 2008. She was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident.
“If I had been wearing a seatbelt, I quite possibly could be walking today,” said Miner, who is wheelchair-bound.
Miner encouraged students to think about the consequences of their actions.
“Think before you do things,” Miner said. “Think about what could happen. Think about if you were in a wheelchair.”
Miner’s story and the stories shared by other speakers made an impression on MHS students.
“It was heartbreaking,” said student Emilee Kohls.
“I couldn’t fight back the tears,” student Deena Norell said.
Miner’s mother, Betsy, recounted the day of Celena’s accident.
“The day of her accident was life changing,” Betsy said. “Nobody wants to get a phone call, especially a mom, saying that her child has been in a car wreck and they need to go to the hospital.
“Your life will change in one second,” Betsy said. “Look at us. Look at Celena. Celena can’t tie her own shoes. Celena can’t off the couch and look in the frig. She lives on her own. She has her own apartment. But we put her to bed and we get her up and we get her dressed.”
Betsy told students what happened to Celena could happen to them.
“If you guys think for one minute this can’t happen to you, don’t,” Betsy said. “You guys think about texting and driving, not wearing a seatbelt and driving, drinking and driving. Think back to this day and picture Celena sitting up here in a wheelchair, and put yourself in her wheelchair. Because I promise you that’s where you will be the rest of your life if you think that it won’t happen to you. It will.”
Washburn, a Meeker police officer, talked about how a drunk driver almost killed his son.
“My oldest son was a motorcycle officer in Douglas County. He and his partner were traveling along a two-lane road and a drunk driver hit them, killing his partner and badly injuring my son,” Washburn said. “He received severe head injuries. It changed his personality. Now all of a sudden my son is a different person … and it’s all because a drunk driver turned into the bar and hit their motorcycle.
“I know you guys are going to experiment, you’re going to try things. We all did,” Washburn said. “But I want you to think about what your actions cause and make good decisions.”
Tardy, deputy district attorney, told students it was the role of his office to prosecute offenders who drink and drive or do drugs and drive, even if they are underage.
“We will convict you of the crimes you commit if you commit adult crimes, just as if you were 21 years old or older,” Tardy said. “I just want you to understand because of the age you are you are very capable of doing adult things … even though you are a teenager. If you choose to do adult things, we will treat you as adults.
“If you drink and drive and kill somebody, you get to pay the price and guess what, it’s forever,” Tardy said. “Act like an adult, and we’re going to treat you like an adult. If you cause serious bodily injury or death to someone in this county, I will try you as an adult.”
Drinking and driving may be an individual act, but others also can suffer.
“Mom and dad get involved because in Colorado we have a thing called vicarious liability,” Tardy said. “If you cause damage, your parents can pay a price. If you cause damage, you just don’t hurt yourself. You hurt your family.”
Kinney, the sheriff’s investigator, has seen the results when people make bad decisions and get behind the wheel.
“With the coroner’s office and the sheriff’s office, I attend every death in this county,” Kinney said. “That’s where I come in. My job is to determine how they died and why they died. One thing I see, more often than not, is young people, dead.
“Until you’re 21 in Colorado you’re not eligible to drink. They do it for a purpose. Not to punish you,” Kinney said. “They want you to be mature enough to handle it.”
As Celena Miner told students, a life can be changed in an instant.
“You guys don’t want to end up in this position,” Celena said. “You don’t want to end up not being able to do anything for yourself. So, wear your seatbelt. Don’t text and drive. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t do drugs and drive. Be smart.”