Janesville51.7°

Are teens getting the message?

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
April 22, 2008
— They staged an impressively detailed car crash: police, paramedics, a hearse, a helicopter and student actors playing victims.

They staged a mock funeral.


They even brought in a former student to tell how he had driven drunk in 2005 and killed another human being.


That was Monday morning.


But will Parker High School students still drink when they go to prom on Saturday?


“I’d say 60 percent,” said junior Fred Hewitt.


Junior Nathan Woodworth figured it will be more like eight out of 10 students.


“It’s not just prom. It’s every weekend for most of these kids,” Nathan said.


Danny King, 23, knows all about high school drinking. He started while a Parker sophomore. Four years later, he was driving home from a night of drinking and crashed head-on into a car carrying four people.


One of those people died. An 18-year-old girl. King choked up as he told hundreds of Parker students what he had done.


His life will never be the same, he said, but that’s nothing compared with the family of the girl he killed.


“There wouldn’t be anything I wouldn’t do to trade places with her,” he said, sounding as though he meant it.


King talked first to the juniors and seniors, then to the freshmen and sophomores. These were his first public speeches since getting out of jail in February, he said.


King was not completing a community service requirement. He volunteered when Parker social worker Stacy Nemetz called.


King’s nightmare started with beer pong and then a trip to a Whitewater bar with a borrowed ID, “just thinking about myself, just thinking I was pretty much untouchable,” he said.


He was nearly home on an Afton Road curve when he crossed the centerline. He believes the girl died instantly.


“And all because I wanted to be cool and wanted to be a hot shot,” he said.


Being popular was his goal at Parker, so he drank, he said.


One teacher recalled that King was one of the most popular kids in school.


King said he started drinking whenever he ran into difficulty.


“No one had any idea of my drinking problem because I hid it.”


King was convicted of homicide by drunken driving. He spent a year in jail.


“I’m a felon, now,” he said.


Under the terms of his probation, he could be sent to prison for 12 to 25 years if caught drinking, he said.


He’s a bricklayer. He has a girlfriend, he said. He attends meetings to deal with his alcoholism. He goes to church, which helps.


But he stays out of public places such as the mall. He doesn’t want to face people, to risk being identified as a felon who killed someone.


“I don’t do anything anymore. I go to work. Go home. Play video games, and that’s my life,” he said.


“It’s horrible. I let so many people down,” he said. “Lied to people. Just so I could drink? … It’s so ridiculous. It’s not what you guys need in your life.”


His thoughts are with his victim and her family every day, but he knows he’ll never be able to make amends, and he understands how much that family must hate him, he said.


“She barely got to live her life, and I took it away, and that’s an extreme guilt I live with every day,” he said.


King pleaded with students: “Being sober is the coolest thing to do. … One night of drinking is not worth somebody’s life.”


Senior Maddie Adams thought 60 percent or 70 percent of students drinking on prom night sounded about right, although she thought King might have an impact because he is so close in age to the students.


“It was good to hear, but I don’t think it’ll change a lot of people’s decisions,” said senior Eleni Andreakos.


“I think the people who are drinking every weekend are the ones who are going to be drinking at prom,” Eleni said. “The kids that are on the edge—they might not” because of Monday’s experience. “But the others, they’re just going to think they’re smarter than everyone else.”


Social worker Nemetz told the juniors and seniors that the idea was to have a safe and sober prom, “but it doesn’t just stop with that. There’s graduation coming up, and there’s just another weekend night coming up, and we want everyone to be as safe as possible.”


Senior Andrew Cook thought just 20 percent to 25 percent of his class would drink on prom night, but he agreed Monday’s lessons wouldn’t have much effect:


“People who are gonna—their minds are pretty much made up.”


PROM DATES

These are the dates of upcoming proms at area high schools:


-- Saturday, April 26—Albany, Brodhead, Orfordville and Parker.


-- Saturday, May 3—Elkhorn, Lake Geneva Badger.


-- Friday, May 9—Big Foot.


-- Saturday, May 10—Craig, Evansville, Milton and Whitewater.


-- Saturday, May 17—Edgerton.


DRINKING PREVALENCE

Drinking is prevalent among Janesville High School students, according to a survey administered four months ago by the Search Institute and commissioned by Rock County Partners in Prevention:


-- Thirty-five percent of sophomores and 54 percent of seniors reported drinking more than once in the previous 30 days.


-- Twenty-four percent of sophomores and 37 percent of seniors at Parker and Craig high schools reported getting drunk at least once in the previous two weeks.


-- Thirty-two percent of seniors said they had driven drunk at least once in the previous year.


-- About 40 percent of sophomores said they had ridden with a drunken driver in the previous year.


-- Twenty-five percent of seniors said it was against their values to drink while in their teens.



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