AYER — May is traditionally a time of celebration for high school seniors, but it also brings apprehension about teen drunken driving for parents, educators, and emergency responders.
The issue was discussed in a special forum at Ayer High School on May 18, the eve of prom night.
The forum centered around the short film entitled “Sean and Betsie: a Story of Friendship and Loss.” Its shows the events that occurred in the wake of an accident caused by a drunken driver that took the lives of North Middlesex Regional High School sweethearts Sean Wellington and Elizabeth “Betsie” Hughes in January 1999.
The film featured a series of interviews with the peers of the young couple and underlined the effect drunken driving can have on a community. The point was further driven home by featured speaker Dorothy “Dodi” Hughes, who lost her daughter in that accident.
Before a rapt audience of teenagers, she told the story of that night and how she was able to forgive the motorist at his sentencing hearing even though he changed her life forever.
While she termed her loss one without closure, she said it was preventable and urged students to make better choices.
”A key in the hand of an intoxicated person is like standing there holding a gun,” she said. “Think what it would be like to spend 30 years in jail. Think if it had been a friend or family member that had been crushed in that car.”
She urged students to take the keys of peers who have been drinking and to never ride with an impaired driver.
Patrolman Jolene Ramalho of the Ayer Police Department affirmed the points made by Hughes. Addressing the assembly, she predicted that more than one of them would eventually be touched by the issue, speaking to the financial and human cost of poor decisions.
”Life as you know it could change in an instant forever and not for the better,” she said. “All I can say about drinking and driving is don’t do it.”
Ramalho outlined the legal implications of drunken driving, saying laws are stiffer for motorists under the age of 21. While the legal blood alcohol limit is .08, she said a Breathalyzer test result of .02 to .05 would result in a year-long license suspension for minors along with thousands of dollars in legal fees and fines.
”A lot of people think, I’m not a .08, I’m all right,” she said. “You need to look past that.”
The event was hosted jointly by the school’s Human Rights Squad and Leominster Multi-Service Center, which runs a youth safety program.
Principal Donald Parker spoke briefly as well, telling students he was concerned for their safety on prom night, which was scheduled for the next day.
While he said the schools had been fortunate in recent years, he cautioned that binge drinking after the prom is inherently unsafe and that area hotels had been provided with lists of students attending the prom.
”I just don’t want a tragedy to occur,” he said.
Human Rights Squad advisor Lucille DeCosta spoke to that point as well. As part of the Ayer High School class of 1971, she recalled a prom tragedy that cost her a friend, which haunts her each year to this day.
”You don’t want to go to a funeral because you’ll never forget it,” she said.
Before wrapping up her comments to the assembly, Hughes said her daughter and Wellington wanted to do something beneficial for children with their lives and this program, which was launched in conjunction with the office of District Attorney Martha Coakley, was meeting that goal.
”They seemed to be getting it, and that was my hope,” said Hughes.
Inquires to the high school after prom reported no automobile fatalities in relation to the event.