Student's successful press conference spotlights drunk driving over Labor Day weekend
Members of local law enforcement, as well as Rhode Island State Police troopers and representatives from various state and advocacy agencies, gathered Friday at the Warwick Police headquarters to hear a “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” press conference on preventing drunk driving incidents this Labor Day Weekend.
The conference was organized as a part of Megan Boullier’s senior project at Pilgrim High School, and drew and impressive crop of speakers including the Superintendent of the State Police, the Warwick Police Chief and the executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
“I know firsthand the impact that is felt when someone makes a bad decision to drive impaired. That is the reason I stand here before you today,” said Megan, whose sister, Kyra, was hit head-on by a drunk driver on her 17th birthday in 2015. “This doesn’t just affect one person, it impacts families and communities.”
Kyra took to the podium to share her story, and provide perspective that not all drunk driving-related accidents end as fortunately as hers.
“Someone else’s bad choices ruined many things for me, and the lasting effects are still with me today,” Kyra said. “I’m here to remind everyone today to act responsible this holiday weekend. My story is only a small piece of what happens on our roadways. There are many stories that do not end like mine, but end in tragedy.”
Law enforcement officials spoke to remind everyone of the grim statistics that accompany holiday weekends when it comes to drunk driving crashes, injuries and fatalities. Warwick Colonel Stephen McCartney informed attendees that, although police had successfully performed over 200 DUI arrests, there have also been four DUI-related fatalities in the city so far this year.
“Despite this hard work and effort put forth by our officers, this problems continues to challenge us,” McCartney said.
Rhode Island State Police Superintendent Ann Claire Assumpico reported that an estimated 124 to 155 people would perish over Labor Day weekend in alcohol-related accidents, and that as many as 14,000 to 18,000 will be involved in alcohol-related crashes across the country.
“We know that even though the message, you hear it a lot, people will still die this weekend,” Assumpico said. “Unfortunately, possibly in our own state...We know, as police officers for many, many years, that it’s something that we can change. So we’re going to try to stop the prediction and cut down on the estimate. Because any small thing we do in this state alone will save a life.”
Speakers presented ways in which individuals can help prevent a possible tragedy.
“The one thing I know that I can do, is I can nag,” said Gabrielle Abbate, Chief of Highway Safety for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation. “Nagging is an influence, and sometimes it’s an annoying influence…but sometimes it’s our only thing. Because sometimes, if you’re a nagger and people hear that voice inside their head, they’ll make a different choice.”
Eric Creamer, executive director for the Rhode Island chapter of MADD, agreed with this notion that any one person can have a resounding effect on their loved ones and peers.
“Individuals have this ability to change another person’s thought process, and that’s all it takes,” Creamer said, adding that the partnerships between law enforcement and state agencies should also be supplemented by individual efforts. “One individual can affect the lives of many other people.”
The message, for all the speakers, was resounding and unified.
“Those numbers [of DUI arrests and related incidents] are way too high,” said Megan, who was donned in her Warwick Police Cadet uniform. “The message is clear and simple: If you choose to drink this weekend, designate a driver. If you can afford to drink, you can afford to call an Uber or Lyft.”
“The bottom line is, if you want to engage in this risky behavior, Rhode Island law enforcement will be out there doing their job,” said McCartney.
Parked outside was the Department of Transportation's Breath Alcohol Testing Mobile Unit (known as the B.A.T. Mobile). Attendees were allowed to tour the vehicle, which provides the ability to process alleged drunk drivers on the scene rather than requiring to take them back to a station.
Warwick Police Captain Joseph Hopkins confirmed that there were 8 DUI arrests, six of whom refused the breathalyzer test over the long weekend. Two of the arrests involved minor accidents without injuries. Of the eight arrests, "seven were made by the officers on extra DUI patrols paid for by DOT Office of Highway Safety grants," Hawkins reported.