Lights on! Impaired drivers off the roads!

Wanda English Burnett, Editor

“You don’t know what it’s like until you lose a friend,” ISP Trooper Robert Garcia told students gathered at South Ripley High School Wednesday afternoon at a press conference held by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (ICJI) to kick off “Lights on For Life.”

Garcia told the students how he literally saw his partner die as a drunken driver hit his motorcycle when the two were on patrol together when he lived in Phoenix, AZ. The 21-year law enforcement veteran supported the campaign “Lights on For Life”, launched by the Governor’s Council on Impaired & Dangerous Driving and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. He encouraged people to be aware, and do one of the most important things to save a life, “wear your seatbelts.”

Friday, December 21 is the kick off day for “Lights on For Life.” On that day, motorists are encouraged to turn their lights on during the daylight hours to remember those who have been killed and victims affected by impaired drivers.

Melanie Evans, sponsor of the 97 member SADD chapter at South Ripley High School, noted that the students have been actively participating in this campaign by making posters and signs. Miranda Cole, senior representative for the SADD chapter spoke to the assembly, “We need everyone’s help. Impaired driving affects an entire community when they decide to get behind the wheel. Not only do they put themselves at risk, but also everyone else who may be on the road.”

The SADD chapter at South Ripley joined with others to encourage all drivers to drive with their headlights on throughout the day on Friday. Residents are asked to turn their porch lights on, holiday lights and floodlights to send the message “that impaired driving is a serious crime and will not be tolerated in Ripley County.”

Officers in attendance at the conference were Sheriff Tom Grills, Versailles Town Marshal Joe Mann, and Garcia, who all agreed they will be out in force for the holiday season. Lt. Marty McKinney, commander of the Indiana State Police Versailles District noted that last year between December 22 and January 2, there were 27 people who lost their lives on Indiana roadways. Six of those deaths were results of alcohol. Other statistics show that for the year 273 people were killed in Indiana in alcohol related traffic crashes. More than 18,000 people were injured because of an impaired driver.

“Lights on For Life” will kick off the National Lifesavers Weekend. During this time, law enforcement will have a crackdown on impaired drivers through the use of sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols.

Paula Goodpaster, coordinator for Ripley County Local Coordinating Council Against Substance Abuse gave some tips:
• Don’t even think about getting behind the wheel of your vehicle if you’ve been out drinking.
• If you are impaired, call a taxi or get a sober friend or family member to come and get you.
• And remember - Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk. Take the keys and never let a friend leave your sight if you think they are about to drive while impaired.

Making the roadways safe is everyone’s responsibility. Making everyone aware of how quickly a fun time can turn into a tragic one, is something Ryan Klitzsch, traffic safety division director at ICJI, wants to drive home. “Not only is wearing your seat belt the law, it can reduce your risk of injury by 50 percent. The best defense to surviving a crash involving an impaired driver is by wearing a seat belt,” he told the students. “It’s the single most preventative thing you can do.” While you can’t stop someone from getting behind the wheel while they’re impaired, you can have your seat belt on to hopefully reduce your injuries should you be the victim.

Evans thanked Rachel Meyer, communications manager and Ryan Klitzsch, for holding the press conference in Versailles. Both are from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute and Meyer is no stranger to the area. She is a graduate of South Ripley and her father, Bob Meyer, is currently the principal.

The most simplistic message from SADD students is this: Don’t drink and drive. Just don’t do it.
Miranda Cole, senior representative for South Ripley SADD Chapter, addressed the assembly at the South Ripley Cafeteria Wednesday afternoon as the "Lights on For Life" campaign was launched by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute. Seated on the stage from left are: Sheriff Tom Grills, ISP Robert Garcia, Versailles Marshal Joe Mann, Ryan Klitzsch, traffic safety division director for the Indiana Criminal Justice Instittue, and Melanie Evans, sponsor of the SADD chapter at South Ripley.