The danger of mixing automobiles and alcohol was shown in a harsh light last Thursday, as high school and college students gathered in the College Union Ballroom to participate in the annual Stop DWI Day.
From 9 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., the student conference hosted about 60 students from Avon, York and Geneseo high schools.
The event began with a presentation by Justin Walsh, who was recently released from jail after causing the accident that killed his best friend. Walsh offered a first-hand account of the consequences of drunken driving.
Geneseo student volunteers and police officers answered questions and helped the attendees participate in different activities. One booth timed participants as they put together a shape puzzle with or without "drunken" goggles, which simulated the effects of being under the influence. Another activity involved driving a small pedal cart around an obstacle course with the goggles on.
A car was also set up outside the Union with software that simulated driving with varying blood-alcohol levels. Richard Frost, a senior at Geneseo High School, explained that the software altered the driver's vision and made sounds like crashing glass when the car had "collided" with something.
"You definitely got the feel for it," said Frost.
The program ended with a Victim's Impact Panel that gave a rounded experience, allowing students to hear from people who lost loved ones due to drunken driving.
State trooper A.C. McFadden, one of the attending officers, explained that not only did students learn about the tragic consequences of drunken driving, they learned about the prosecution process.
Many involved in Stop DWI Day agreed that it got the right message across. Christie Kelly and Ashley Tinney, two Geneseo freshman volunteers, agreed that it was important to reach out to high school students.
"Most are seniors in high school, so they're about to go to college where they'll be in contact with alcohol," said Kelly.
"It made an impact on me," said Geneseo High student John Sykes. "It really makes me think."
Leonard Sancilio, dean of students, and Chip Matthews, director of the College Union and Activities, organized the event.
Matthews pointed out that DWI Day is meant to be engaging and even fun.
"This isn't an issue of scaring students - it's an issue of educating them," he said.
"Even though it seems like a lot of fun, I really think it can teach people the type of problems that can happen on the road after just a few drinks," said Geneseo senior Scott Variano.
Sancilio explained that in past years the event focused more on a lecture format. "This year we tried to make it more hard-hitting and emotional," he said.
Part of the funding for the event came from the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Awareness endowment by William T. and Dorothy Nowack Smith.