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Safe prom event challenges denial about teen drinking

  • Edwards Roberts Jr. talks to a group of Smith Vocational students about his experiences and the hazards of drunk driving during a program Friday afternoon.

    Edwards Roberts Jr. talks to a group of Smith Vocational students about his experiences and the hazards of drunk driving during a program Friday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Hampshire Regional students watch as   police,  fire fighters and students participate in a mock  drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom. lying on the ground playing a injured victim is Kai Brown,18,of Westhampton and walking by the car is Joey Allen ,17, of Northampton playing the drunk driver.


    Hampshire Regional students watch as police, fire fighters and students participate in a mock drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom. lying on the ground playing a injured victim is Kai Brown,18,of Westhampton and walking by the car is Joey Allen ,17, of Northampton playing the drunk driver. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hampshire Regional students watch as   police,  fire fighters and students participate in a mock  drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom.

    Hampshire Regional students watch as police, fire fighters and students participate in a mock drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hampshire Regional students watch as   police,  fire fighters and students participate in a mock  drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom. Under the sheet is Kezoah Behlke,18, of Southampton playing the dead passenger just removed from the vehicle and getting ready to be put in the Hearse.

    Hampshire Regional students watch as police, fire fighters and students participate in a mock drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom. Under the sheet is Kezoah Behlke,18, of Southampton playing the dead passenger just removed from the vehicle and getting ready to be put in the Hearse. Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Hampshire Regional students watch as   police,  fire fighters and students participate in a mock  drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom. lying on the ground playing a injured victim is Kai Brown,18,of Westhampton and walking by the car is Joey Allen ,17, of Northampton playing the drunk driver.


    Hampshire Regional students watch as police, fire fighters and students participate in a mock drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom. lying on the ground playing a injured victim is Kai Brown,18,of Westhampton and walking by the car is Joey Allen ,17, of Northampton playing the drunk driver. Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Hampshire Regional students watch as   police,  fire fighters and students participate in a mock  drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom.


    Hampshire Regional students watch as police, fire fighters and students participate in a mock drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom. Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Hampshire Regional students watch as   police,  fire fighters and students participate in a mock  drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom. Under the sheet is Kezoah Behlke,18, of Southampton playing the dead passenger just removed from the vehicle and getting ready to be put in the Hearse.


    Hampshire Regional students watch as police, fire fighters and students participate in a mock drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom. Under the sheet is Kezoah Behlke,18, of Southampton playing the dead passenger just removed from the vehicle and getting ready to be put in the Hearse. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Edwards Roberts Jr. talks to a group of Smith Vocational students about his experiences and the hazards of drunk driving during a program Friday afternoon.
  • <br/>Hampshire Regional students watch as   police,  fire fighters and students participate in a mock  drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom. lying on the ground playing a injured victim is Kai Brown,18,of Westhampton and walking by the car is Joey Allen ,17, of Northampton playing the drunk driver.
  • Hampshire Regional students watch as   police,  fire fighters and students participate in a mock  drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom.
  • Hampshire Regional students watch as   police,  fire fighters and students participate in a mock  drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom. Under the sheet is Kezoah Behlke,18, of Southampton playing the dead passenger just removed from the vehicle and getting ready to be put in the Hearse.
  • <br/>Hampshire Regional students watch as   police,  fire fighters and students participate in a mock  drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom. lying on the ground playing a injured victim is Kai Brown,18,of Westhampton and walking by the car is Joey Allen ,17, of Northampton playing the drunk driver.
  • <br/>Hampshire Regional students watch as   police,  fire fighters and students participate in a mock  drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom.
  • <br/>Hampshire Regional students watch as   police,  fire fighters and students participate in a mock  drunk driving accident Thursday morning, the Friday before prom. Under the sheet is Kezoah Behlke,18, of Southampton playing the dead passenger just removed from the vehicle and getting ready to be put in the Hearse.

– Edward Roberts heard plenty of speakers warn about the dangers of drinking and driving when he was in high school more than a decade ago at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School.

“I was one of the kids sitting in the back who shook my head, ‘that’s not going to happen to me,’” the 31-year-old Goshen resident said recently.

Roberts would soon learn how wrong he was.

One November night in 2007, he lost control of his pickup on West Street in Goshen. The truck flipped and rolled onto its roof, killing his 15-year-old cousin, Tyler Hewes, who was in the passenger seat. Neither Roberts, then 25, nor his cousin was wearing a seat belt.

Hewes, a 10th-grader in the carpentry program at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, died at the crash site, where his father, Goshen Police Chief Jeffrey Hewes, was among the first responders.

Roberts, who said he had been drinking that night, suffered serious injuries and was later charged with motor vehicle homicide, served a year in jail and lost his license for 10 years.

When Roberts described that awful night, his audience of 200 Hampshire Regional High School juniors and seniors sat in hushed silence last week. As a speaker for Buckle Up for Tyler, which the Hewes family founded just months after Tyler’s death, Roberts has helped reach more than 8,000 local elementary, middle and high school students over the past six years with messages about safety.

As prom and graduation season kicked off at schools throughout the region last week, Roberts not only spoke at Hampshire Regional, but also at Smith Vocational in Northampton and Hopkins Academy in Hadley.

A reserved, humble presence at the podium, he didn’t softpedal the impact of his decision to drive drunk that night in Goshen.

“I have to live with the fact that I killed a 15-year-old,” Roberts told students at Hampshire Regional. “There’s nothing I can do about it. Nothing makes it better or makes it go away.

“I’m just grateful to be able to talk about this in front of Jeff and Donna,” Roberts said, looking directly at his aunt and uncle seated in the front row of the auditorium. The couple attend as many Buckle Up for Tyler programs as they can, though they have yet to speak at one.

“I know you guys have prom coming up,” Roberts told students. “If you do go to an after-party, call a designated driver. Or your parents. Yeah, they’ll be mad at you. But at least you’ll see them again.”

In preparation for Hampshire Regional’s prom last week, the school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions chapter invited Roberts to speak and arranged for a mock car crash on Stage Road.

As Westhampton Fire Chief Christopher Norris narrated, volunteer firefighters in full turnout gear pried two student actors, seniors Keziah Behlke and Alyssa Labrie, from the front and back seat of a crumpled Chevy Malibu using the Jaws of Life tool.

A few feet away, town police officers administered a sobriety test to a classmate playing the driver.

Another student lay motionless on the grass in his prom suit, after being thrown through the car windshield. As police cruiser lights flashed blue and red, a hearse from Mitchell Funeral Homes in Easthampton drove up to collect his body in a body bag.

Marina Lacharite, vice president of Hampshire Regional’s SADD chapter, said members wanted to stage something dramatic because that’s what it takes to get students’ attention.

“Prom is really associated with drinking. You’ll see tweets, ‘I can’t wait for the after-party,’” said Lacharite, a junior from Southampton. “But a lot of kids don’t understand the consequences. If they see their classmate being taken away in a body bag, it gets the point across.”

SADD adviser Sarah Jablonski, a special education paraprofessional at HRHS, agreed it’s a challenge to pierce the sense of invincibility common among adolescents.

She called the mock crash a scare tactic — but a necessary one.

“Too many kids don’t think anything will happen to them,” said Jablonski, who taught Tyler Hewes at New Hingham Elementary. “If we can get just one kid to think twice before getting into a car drunk, it will be worth it.”

Several HRHS juniors and seniors said the demonstration had made an impact on them.

“I’d kind of been making fun of this but it would scare me if this really happened,” said Brian Hurley, a junior from Southampton. “I don’t drink and drive. It’s definitely effective seeing what the emergency departments do.”

“Seeing the hearse come to get the body, that got me,” said senior Alexander Korza of Easthampton. “This definitely gets people paying attention.”

Other lessons

Meanwhile, Williamsburg Police Chief Denise Wickland asked for a show of hands of students who felt comfortable calling their parents for rides home after drinking at a party. About three-quarters of the audience responded positively.

“Next year, I want to see all the hands go up,” said Wickland, who also responded to the crash that killed Tyler. “I don’t want to have to add any of your names to this program.”

Hampshire Regional senior Tom Sears of Southampton said thoughts of Tyler’s family are what weighed on him most during last week’s safety program.

“It’s so shocking that his parents were the police officers who had to be at the scene,” Sears said, as he left the auditorium for class. “I plan on not drinking” during prom season.

Southampton senior Kathryn Mari said she was moved by Roberts’ choice to speak publicly about his role in the accident. “Tyler was from around here so I thought it was really brave of Ed to get up and talk,” she said.

While Mari and others students acknowledged that there would be drinking at an after-prom party last week, they agreed Roberts was the kind of speaker who could break through teenage armor.

“It can all seem a little detached,” said Hannah Weiss, a senior from Westhampton. “I think hearing from people who were directly impacted makes a difference.”

Roberts told students he wishes someone could have shaken him out of his own denial before it was too late.

“I’d known from day one that drinking and driving is bad. We had people tell us that in school,” he said. “It never sunk in. I just kept thinking, I made it home this time.”

Related

Experts favor positive strategies for helping teens stay safe at prom and graduation time

Monday, June 2, 2014

NORTHAMPTON — While mock car crashes and cautionary tales by survivors of drunken driving accidents are still popular ways to reach teens, experts favor safety programs that take a more positive approach. Effective programs are those that “include coping strategies for ways young people can avoid risky behavior,” says Marisa Hebble, coordinator of the Northampton Prevention Coalition based at Northampton … 0

Six tips for a safe prom and graduation season

Monday, June 2, 2014

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens nationwide, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and drivers age 15 to 20 are especially vulnerable to crashes. That’s why prom and graduation season, when many young people are attending parties, is a time to focus on safety. Marisa Hebble, coordinator of the Northampton Prevention Coalition, recommends … 0

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