This is the first in a series of occasional articles on the approaching end of the school year in the Washington area.
Mal Willams expected yesterday's graphic movie about the dangers of driving and drinking on senior prom night to end with the girl going through the car windshield, to be followed by a funeral. It did, though Williams said he won't change his plans for tomorrow night's prom for Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George's County.
"I've always felt drunk driving was serious--the movie doesn't make a difference," said the 17-year-old Williams, who said he plans to be "a little tipsy" but not drunk for the annual spring party.
Williams' prom-going buddies, however, did take a lesson from "The Last Prom," a 45-minute film, just in case Williams' judgment fails: They vowed to take the keys to Williams' car if he is too drunk to drive.
"You see, Mal can't beat any of us up," laughed John C. Jones, an 18-year-old senior from Glenarden. "We've already told him."
That was the reaction Roosevelt Vice Principal Richard R. Clingan wanted to hear. He said he initiated yesterday's required assembly for Roosevelt seniors, assuming that a majority of them will drink some liquor or beer before prom night ends. "To say, 'Do not drink' is not to live in the real world," said Clingan. "We're not encouraging kids to drink, just to make responsible decisions when they do."
The realistic and adult advice--that friends do not let friends drive while drunk--is the theme of the surprisingly strong message to Washington-area prom-goers this year by not only Roosevelt officials but also students, government and business officials and a wide array of grassroots groups aimed at keeping youths who drink from driving on the night of their fashionable and final high school dance.
The concern has emerged from a national movement to clamp down on drunk drivers and follows the death last week of John Svec, a 16-year-old Fairfax County youth killed when he was struck by a car driven by a woman charged with manslaughter and driving while intoxicated. An 18-year-old Fairfax girl was killed on New Year's Eve in 1981 when a 17-year-old youth who had been drinking struck her car head-on.
Dubbed "Project Graduation," antidrunk-driving campaigns are being coordinated for the first time under the Washington Regional Alcohol Program. WRAP Chairman Jack Highland, an aide to Montgomery County Executive Charles Gilchrist, said the regional approach prevents jurisdictional fighting for time in public-service announcements and media attention.
Under the WRAP umbrella are at least five other groups contributing to the information campaign, including AAAD (Administrators Against Adolescent Drinking--Montgomery County), FADD (Football Players Against Drunk Driving), MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving, with 91 chapters in 31 states, including Maryland and Virginia), DADD (an association of area automobile Dealers Against Drunk Driving) and SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving).
SADD has chapters in Prince George's and Montgomery, but is strongest in Fairfax, where last week more than 400 mourners, most of them students from W.T. Woodson High School, went to the funeral of Svec, who had attended the school. The formation of FADD was announced at a student demonstration for tougher drunk-driving laws that day.
"Unfortunately, the thing that precipitates that kind of thing is a bad crash," Highland said. "That's a tough way to get something going. I hope it doesn't happen in Montgomery."
This year area high school seniors also will be getting more help than ever in making the decision not to drive. In Fairfax, cards bearing these messages will be in every corsage box and rented tuxedo pocket: "Have a wonderful time--if it becomes unsafe for you or your driver to drive, call 691-3253," and "Be a friend for life--Don't let friends drive drunk." The county-wide car-pool service will be staffed by volunteers from a Fairfax women's group.
Montgomery County will have similar cards advertising a dial-a-ride service. They are also increasing presentations before seniors of the "Scared Stiff" program created by three Montgomery police officers. The program features graphic slides of auto accident victims and tough talk about the dangers of drunk driving. Prince George's is organizing car pools on a school-by-school basis and every prom table will display a sign with a drunk-driving warning.
"I don't think drunk driving has been on anybody's mind up to this point," said Lori Hutter, 16, of Upper Marlboro, after watching "The Last Prom."
But drunk driving has been on the mind of at least one Roosevelt student. Laurie Cameron, 18, of Lanham recalled that a 17-year-old friend of hers was one of Prince George's 42 alcohol-related traffic deaths last year. "It was the most awful thing that could happen," she said. "We were like brother and sister. Everyone in the car was drunk. A lot of people were laughing at the movie "The Last Prom" , but when they showed the blood and gore it made you think."