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Teens get tough messages on alcohol
Teens get tough messages on alcohol
By SUE HOFFMAN
When Aaron Cooksey was growing up in North Canton, he loved sports and planned to be an elementary school teacher, he said. In high school, he followed the rules and did not drink alcohol, he recalled last week.
Speaking to some 1,400 students from eight area high schools at Parkside Church in Bainbridge, Mr. Cooksey told how he enrolled at Mount Union College in Alliance in 1999, planning to play sports and pursue a career as an elementary school teacher. Frustrated when he required surgery on one of his knees and several months of rest, instead of playing sports, he changed his focus.
"Shortly after, I drank for the first time," he told students. "I drank a little more and a little more. I had the mentality that I was invincible." That thinking "can fuel a path of destruction," he said. When he was at baseball practice in January 2001 and the other knee popped, he "gave up on life," he said. "I consumed alcohol all day every day."
While at college, he met his good friend Andrea, he said. He told how on Sunday, July 29, 2001, Andrea called him to see if he wanted to get something to eat. He picked her up, and they first stopped at a bar. On the way from the bar to a restaurant, he was driving 55 mph on a 35 mph road, he said.
"Andrea said something, and I took my eyes off the road for a split second." Suddenly, a car which seemed to be a safe distance a minute earlier was right in front of him. Swerving to avoid it, his truck flipped over three times and wrapped around a telephone poll. Andrea was killed, and Mr. Cooksey received a four-year prison sentence and three years probation. He continues to grieve for Andrea, and, because of his felony, he will never reach his dream of being a teacher, he told students. Yet he had an important lesson to teach.
"This wasn't about me. Hundreds of people were affected that day," Andrea's family and friends and all the people who had believed in him, he said. "We always think, 'It's not going to happen to me.'"
He told students not to applaud for him but just to listen to his message. "Think about someone you care about," he said, "and if you drink, find another way home."
Mr. Cooksey was a new speaker at the fourth annual "Your Life, Your Choice" program, aimed to instill some caution during the prom and graduation season. He was among several speakers who had personal experiences with the tragic combination of drinking and driving.
The program was spearheaded by Chagrin Falls police officer Richard Goldsmith and conducted with the assistance of several local police departments and the Geauga County Sheriff's Department. The audience included seniors at Berkshire, Chagrin Falls, Chardon, Kenston, West Geauga, Kirtland and Perry high schools and 60 members of Students Against Destructive Decisions at Solon High School.
Mr. Goldsmith, who coordinated this year's program with Sgt. Amber Dacek and administrative assistant Lisa Mariola, of the Chagrin Falls Police Department, told his young audience about his daughter Emily's tragic death because of a drunken driver in March 2002.
Emily was a senior at Kenston High School due to graduate in two months, when a vehicle driven by Peter Glinatsis crossed the center line and struck the car in which she was a passenger head-on. With multiple wounds and brain damage, Emily died five days after the accident.
When he first heard the news about her accident, Mr. Goldsmith said, "Never did I think that my daughter would die." She was an energetic, vibrant person, playing soccer, working and volunteering, he said. About 1,000 people, many students transported by school bus, attended her funeral.
Mr. Goldsmith showed students the box that school officials gave him a couple of months later, as well as the tribute that students placed on her locker. "It just never ends," he said. Inside the box were her cap and gown that she never wore, along with her school records and diploma.
"It just doesn't have to be this way," Mr. Goldsmith said. "Starting right now, you can save a life. If you see someone impaired, do something. It is your life and your choice."
Ohio Highway Patrol Trooper William Lee gave students some statistics. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death of people ages 4 through 34, he said. At night, one in seven drivers is impaired.
Students also heard from an inmate from Grafton Prison who is serving a seven-year sentence for vehicular homicide. Like Mr. Cooksey, he said his life was once full of promise. In high school, he competed in wrestling at the state level and he went on to enroll at Cleveland State University.
Everything changed when he decided to drink alcohol and leave college, he said. He was arrested for drunken driving twice before that fateful day, when, one minute before reaching home, he smashed into the car ahead of him, killing a 17-year-old boy. Filled with remorse that will last a lifetime, he implored the students to make the right choices.
Chagrin Falls Police Chief James T. Brosius, whose brother Charles was killed in 1974 when the vehicle he was driving to work was struck head-on by a drunken driver, was also present at the program.
"I think this program is invaluable," Kenston High School Principal Nancy Santilli said. "Our primary concern is that our students are safe. Hopefully, they'll carry the message through their lifetime."
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