Underage drinking rally stresses ‘good choices’

Morgan Day


Richard Gallaspie, speaks candidly to hundreds of high school students during yesterday’s None 4 Under 21 rally in the MACC Center. Gallaspie, who was paralyzed 30 years ago from a drunk driving accident.

Credit: Adam Griffiths

Marc Streem can still recall the night his 14-year-old son, Ryan, was killed.

Streem, a registered nurse at Robinson Memorial Hospital, shared his story with about 2,000 local high school seniors during Portage County’s “None 4 Under 21 and Choices Beyond” program yesterday in the M.A.C. Center.

He described his thoughts when the Ohio State highway patrolman and coroner knocked on his door at 1 a.m. on Aug. 18, 2001. They said two boys were driving a pickup truck with four other boys in the bed when the vehicle went off the road and hit a tree. Four of them were injured, one was in a coma and the other was dead, the patrolman said to him. Streem then had to go to the coroner’s office to identify Ryan’s body.

“When I hear those words, and I play them back over in my mind, it’s like everything in your life comes to a halt,” Streem said.

Ryan had spent his last two weeks preparing for soccer. He was excited because he made varsity for the first time and got his favorite number, nine, on his jersey. He couldn’t wait to wear his jersey for the first time the next day, when he’d have his varsity soccer photo taken.

“Ryan got to wear his soccer uniform one time – not for his picture, but for his funeral,” Streem said.

He said there was no alcohol involved, but none of the boys were wearing their seatbelts. Streem stressed the students not to tempt fate but to make good choices so they can continue to make good choices.

Jennifer Hughes, a senior at Rootstown High School, said Streem’s story was helpful with prom and graduation coming up. She said his words hit close to home because Ryan had gone to school with her.

Being involved in a drunk driving accident can happen to anyone, said Amy, a prisoner incarcerated at Trumbull Correctional Institute whose last name could not be released. Just like the students in the room, she said she didn’t expect to kill anyone while driving drunk.

“I couldn’t tell you what she (the victim) looks like, but I hear her voice every day,” said Amy, who was clothed in a bright orange jumpsuit and cuffed at the ankles.

She said she was heading home from a bar on Feb. 18, 2004 with a blood alcohol level three-and-a-half times the legal limit, when she caused a head-on collision that killed a young woman. Amy, a single mother of one, must serve six more years for aggravated behavior and homicide and aggravated behavior and assault.

She said her decision not only had an effect on her life, but also the life of her victim and her victim’s family. She said the guilt she feels will never go away, and although she will not be a prisoner all her life, she will still be a prisoner in her mind because of what she did.

“I took something away from (that family) that I can never give back,” she said. “I can’t press rewind. Mom and Dad can’t bail me out.”

Matt Herrera, a senior at Aurora High School, said he liked the way the program was set up with speakers telling their own experiences.

“It’s better to tell life events than to lecture students,” Herrera said.

Debbie DeRonde, promotion director at WBNX, a sponsor of the event, said students are receptive to the program’s message of not drinking and driving. The program is in its sixth year at Kent State.

“Everyone who is involved in this event is in it for students,” she said.

Footage from the program will be used to make a five- to seven-minute segment, which will air on WBNX and will be sent to high schools, law enforcement agencies and companies that may be interested in the event.

Contact safety reporter Morgan Day at [email protected].