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Tarpon High stages mock drunken driving crashes as a prom night warning

TARPON SPRINGS — The dresses have been bought and fitted, the tuxedos rented and after-party planned. And as those who have been through prom season many times are painfully aware, too often the alcohol purchase has been arranged.

With its evening of enchantment scheduled for Saturday, Tarpon Springs High spent Thursday morning demonstrating the realities of driving while impaired to its juniors and seniors.

There was the simulated car crash with a passenger being killed, one transported by helicopter and another arrested for drinking while driving.

There were the heart-tugging stories by teacher Jerry Woodka, who lost a brother to a drunken driver, and Renee Napier, who lost a daughter. There were a hearse and caskets.

But did all that have any effect?

"Oh yeah, big time," said Luis De La Espriella, an 18-year-old senior who will be attending his girlfriend's Palm Harbor University prom tonight and his the following evening. "I looked over, and there were girls crying. It worked."

De La Espriella said he leaned over during the presentation and told his friend "to knock me out" if he has been drinking and doesn't want to give up his keys.

"He says to do the same to him," De La Espriella said.

Jessica Baker said the drama and emotion displayed Thursday morning may help change the minds of a few people but not the majority.

"Most teenagers could care less what happens," said Baker, 17, a junior. "They just want to have a good time. Some kids can comprehend it, but most don't care."

Choking back tears during his talk, Woodka went through a list that started with "he's never," referring to his brother, who was killed May 17, 1984, at age 24.

"He never met my wife, attended my brother's wedding, witnessed the birth of my two boys," Woodka said. "He's never been to any of my son's birthday parties. … He's never coming back."

Cpl. Frank Burke of the Florida Highway Patrol told the students at least five of them will be involved in a crash and die and two will go to prison for an accident they caused.

"At your 10th high school reunion, look around and see who's missing and remember what I said today," Burke said.

Napier, who lives in the Panhandle, showed a video of the man convicted of killing her daughter and her friend on May 11, 2002, a day before Mother's Day. Eric Smallridge was sobbing as he apologized after being sentenced to 22 years in prison. Napier spoke of her loss, the importance of making good decisions and the value of forgiveness.

"It makes you think," said senior Brian Rivers, 17. "It scared me a little bit."

Woodka needs only one.

"I hope to reach thousands," he said. "But if I could reach one kid, that would affect the life of 50 people. Maybe 10 years down the road, someone will say 'Coach, I remember your speech and don't drink and drive.' "

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at (727) 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.

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Tarpon High stages mock drunken driving crashes as a prom night warning 05/07/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 7, 2009 7:58pm]

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