START Aims to Stop Teen Crashes

NEWPORT CITY – “If you don’t think it can happen to you, you’ve already made your first mistake.”Those words are at the end of a video the Stop Teen Alcohol Risk Team (START) brought to the North Country Union High School Driver Education Class this week. START consists of local and state law enforcement agencies and the court diversion program. The video showed newspaper clippings and graphic still photographs of a fatal drinking and driving accident nearly 10 years ago. The accident happened after two local friends had been drinking. The driver of the car sustained injuries and served jail time. Her friend died in the crash. A person in the second vehicle also sustained injuries.START members talked about the consequences of underage drinking. “That’s the message we’re trying to get across,” said Sgt. Larry Smith of the Vermont State Police. The second message START sends is to trust the system. “The system is designed for success. It was put in place because people make mistakes and this is a way to mitigate those mistakes.”Both Smith and Newport City Police Officer Royce Lancaster like to think START’s efforts have made a difference over the years. The state formed START after several fatal alcohol related crashes involving teenagers occurred in the state. One of those accidents happened on Interstate-91 near Orleans in the late 1990s.Stephanie Bowen from Diversion added that, in 1998, Vermont, per-capita, lead the country for teen alcohol fatalities. Orleans County was the leader in the state for those statistics. The message Bowen hopes to send is simple: “Think, think before they do something reckless and ruin their lives and the lives of others.”North Country driver education instructor Trish Buttice said the information START presented was “very informative” and the students may think twice about drinking alcohol.“The students have a lot of questions, but sometimes they feel it’s not appropriate to ask an officer out in public,” Buttice said. “This gives the students an opportunity to see the officer both as a professional and as a human being.”The presentation brought a lot of surprises for the students. Senior Reba Wilcox said the video showed that rescue crews had to cut open the cars to get the victims out.“It was very sad,” said Wilcox of the video itself.“I learned more about drinking and driving that I probably wanted to know," said sophomore Thomas Martin. “It definitely taught me not to drink and drive.”Fatal accidents do happen in the area but are rarely talked about, Martin said.