It was typical of the parties that attracted 18-year-old Susan Marie Herzog. A bunch of high school friends. Lively chatter and music. No drink stronger than a Dr. Pepper.
Herzog slipped out of the party early enough to meet her 1:30 a.m. curfew. But this time, she never made it home.
As her blue Volkswagen topped a hill on Commonwealth Boulevard about a mile from her parents' Fairfax house, a pair of headlights leaped into Herzog's lane. It was over in a matter of seconds. The ripping of metal. The crunch of shattered glass. The sirens of police cars and an ambulance.
Herzog was pronounced dead on arrival at Fairfax Hospital. The 17-year-old boy at the wheel of the other car was taken to the Fairfax County jail and charged with driving while intoxicated. Police reports showed no indication that he had suffered physical injuries.
"At first, her friends were hurt by the loss," said Steven Nichols, vice principal of Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, where Herzog was a senior. "Now we're very angry at what happened. We're not angry at the kid who hit her. We're angry that the law was so lax that the kid could do it."
The Robinson class of '82 has seen more than its share of tragic deaths. Five of its students have died since the students were seventh graders. Herzog was the third classmate killed in an automobile accident. A fourth youngster committed suicide. And the fifth, Jon Walsh, died of heart failure after collapsing on the field the first day of football practice last fall.
But for many of the teachers and students at Robinson, the death of Susan Herzog was different. It wasn't just that she was one of the most popular girls in the senior class. Or that she was class vice president. Or that she genuinely "cared about people," according to classmate Richard Murphy.
"The odds were against her," said Nichols. "She just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. . . . We've decided it's time for us to wake up and do something. We've lost one kid too many."
Robinson students began gathering petitions last week, asking Governor-elect Charles S. Robb to support stricter enforcement of drunken driving laws and tougher penalties for people arrested for driving while intoxicated. They sent petitions with more than 800 names to Robb's office this week.
Herzog herself had been active in a group organized earlier this school year by Nichols to alert high school students to the dangers of alcohol. She also was active in a local chapter of the Catholic Youth Organization.
Since her death, a crusade to toughen drunken driving laws has begun at Robinson and other schools in the county. At nearby Woodson High School, students have organized a group called Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD), a spinoff of MADD--Mothers Against Drunk Driving, founded last year by a California woman whose daughter was killed by an automobile driven by an alcoholic.
Within two days, about 100 students had signed up to participate in SADD, according to Paul E. "Red" Jenkins, a drivers' education instructor at the school who agreed to be faculty sponsor for the group.
Kim Ritchie, 16, organizer of the Woodson group, said she already has received queries from five other Fairfax schools interested in starting similar associations. She said the group plans to lobby legislators and other officials for stronger enforcement of drunken driving laws.
"We just can't see more people dying that way because the laws aren't enforced," said Ritchie.
Almost half the 971 automobile accident fatalities recorded in Virginia in 1980 involved drunken drivers, according to figures compiled by the Virginia Department of State Police.
"Drunk driving among teen-agers is a problem especially in an affluent area like Northern Virginia," Jenkins said. "The kids have cars, they have money, and alcohol plays a big part in many of their lives."
"The handgun is the lethal weapon in the inner city," Jenkins added. "In the suburbs, the automobile is the lethal weapon. Kids have got to realize that."
Last week the Fairfax County school board joined the outcry, directing its staff to draw up legislative proposals for stricter penalties against convicted drunken drivers.
"We've got to get some legislation to cut down on the number of these tragedies," said Carmin Caputo, school board member from the Centreville district who initiated the recommendation.