Learning the cost of drunk driving

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By Donna Thornton/News Editor

Upperclassmen at Gadsden City High School learned the harsh reality drinking under the age of 21 last week, when the Alabama Beverage Control Board brought its “Under Age, Under Arrest” program to the school.

But the lessons about the legal risks they face from underage drinking may not be the most lasting lessons.

The students also heard from Renza Avery of the Gadsden Police Department.

Avery is now a resource officer at the school, but in 1993, he almost became a statistic – another victim of a drunk driver.

Avery was seriously injured in car crash when a drunk 16-year-old driver pulled out in front of his patrol car.

The driver and his brother both died in the crash.

His words regarding drinking and driving were simple: “Just don’t do it. It affects not only you, but everyone around you.”

The program came prior to Gadsden’s prom, in an effort to persuade students to make safe choices on prom night and beyond. Students were supplied with pledge cards and asked to sign and submit them after the program.

In addition to hearing from Avery, Joyce Jones told the story of what happened to her son, Marcus Mitchell, another victim of a drunk driver.

Marcus was a promising student and basketball player.

He’d just completed his freshman year at Tuskegee and his coach wanted him to be a captain in the coming season.

He had come home from Tuskegee, dropping off a friend at his house. He and other friends went to Birmingham and were driving home in the rain. Marcus fell asleep in the car, as one of his friends drove.

“Someone had called to report to the sheriff’s department that someone was driving on the wrong side of the road,” Jones said

 “The sheriff’s department didn’t get there in time.”

Her family received the call in the night and rushed to Carraway Hospital. Her son had been gravely injured.

Friends and family arrived, Jones told a very quiet auditorium of teenagers.

“They fill you with the false hope,” Jones said, and getting Marcus better, taking him home and sending him back to college.

Then a nurse came, asking if they wanted to donate his organs.

“I said ‘Why would we want to do that?’”

Then doctors took her and Marcus’ father to another room and said, “We’re sorry, he’s not going to make it.”

When the nurse came back to them, they agreed to donate his organs.

“The one thing we couldn’t give away was his eyes, his corneas,” Jones said.

“I told them I wanted him to play basketball with the angels and he needed his eyes to see.

“I wouldn’t want any of your parents to feel the way I felt, the way I still feel today,” Jones said, over the loss of her son.

“Even if you’re not drinking and driving, if you know someone who’s drinking and driving, you tell them a little about me … coming here, baring my soul to you because a drunk driver made the wrong decision,” Jones told the students.

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