Beware teenagers: Drinking and driving can get you or someone else killed or critically injured.
It also could have other severe consequences such as jail time.
Those were some of the strongest messages sent home with parents and students alike during a special town hall meeting to discuss prevention of underage teen drinking held at Thomson High School last Thursday night. The special program was sponsored by McDuffie County Partners for Success with funding provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The panel attending the program, which was moderated by WTHO News Director Donna Branch, included Sgt. First Class Jason Johnson, post commander of the Georgia State Patrol post in Thomson, along with Sr. Trooper Tommy Crafton, and Lt. David Cody. Other guests included McDuffie County Probate Court Judge Valerie Burley, Emanuel Bryson, director of the Department of Juvenile Justice for the six-county Toombs Judicial Cricuit and Danny Hedgepeth, an agent with Allstate Insurance.
Leigh Webb was the special guest. (Please see her story about the death of her son below.)
Lt. Cody, a veteran state trooper, began talking about the issue of underage teen drinking by saying that law enforcement officers never get used to knocking on the door of a residence or making a telephone to inform someone that their child has been injured or killed.
"As law enforcement officers, one of the most emotionally difficult aspects of our job is handling the aftermath of a serious or fatal crash involving a teen driver," Lt. Cody said.
He shared several eye-opening statistics.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for American teenagers, he pointed out. Young people, between the ages of 15-20, make up only 10 percent of the driving population, but yet are involved in 12 percent of the fatal crashes.
More than 59 percent of young drivers and 69 percent of their passengers, ages 16-20, that were killed in those crashes were not wearing seat belts.
"Errors behind the wheel can lead to life-changing consequences," Lt. Cody said. "You drink and drive, you lose."
He encouraged those there as parents to be role models for their children and to be involved in their children's lives as much as possible. "Educate them about the laws and set expectations," Lt. Cody said.
"What we're doing here tonight is trying to save lives," Sgt. Johnson stressed, noting that he sometimes receives telephone calls from angry parents informing him that one of his troopers has written their child a ticket or issued a warning ticket.
He explained that the Georgia State Patrol has zero tolerance for drinking and driving and promised to continue to enforcing the state laws in each and every traffic case.
"We will use all of our resources to help us" in combatting underage teen drinking and driving in McDuffie County, as well as in the surrounding counties that troopers work in from the Thomson GSP post.
Judge Burley said teenagers who come before her for various traffic offenses are rendered no penalty within her court that could ever be greater than the penalty of death.
"Losing your license to drive for a little while is no where near as bad as losing your life or causing grief and pain for somebody else," Judge Burley said.
Bob Brunson and Jerrica Bell, both members of the Student Council at Thomson High School, also were present and admitted that some of their peers have parties that involve underage teen drinking, but that they don't condone it and do their best to discourage it.