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None 4 Under 21 and Choices Beyond - 2014

None 4 Under 21 and Choices Beyond, April 22, 2014

Nearly 2,000 high school seniors descended on Hiram College for the annual None 4 Under 21 and Choices Beyond event for a sobering lesson about the dangers of drunk and distracted driving.

The 12th annual program is a community-based event and is designed to empower young people to make appropriate choices by graphically demonstrating the consequences of poor decision-making.

As the students from 16 area schools arrived, they encountered a disturbing mock crash scene in the parking lot. Fire trucks, an ambulance and EMS crews from several cities tending to bloody "victims" trapped inside the mangled wreckage painted a gruesome tableau – one hoped to not be easily forgotten.

"The goal is to reduce teenage fatalities, especially during prom and graduation season," said Lynette Blasiman, Director of Portage County Safe Communities.

Hiram President Thomas Chema addressed the teens at the beginning of the program, telling them about the special significance the event has for Hiram. In 2006, two students were killed and another was severely injured when a drunk driver struck the car in which they were riding.

John O’Neil, Partner at Elk & Elk, thanked the teens for the good choices they make every day and encouraged them to make appropriate decisions related to impaired and distracted driving. He reminded them, "It just takes one time, one poor decision to devastate your life, your family’s lives and your community."

The teens also heard testimonials from speakers whose lives had been irreparably changed by drunk driving. Marc Streem, a bereaved father, shared details of the night his 14-year-old son was killed. Mel Mason, the survivor of crash involving a drunk driver, described the accident in vivid detail and her long road to recovering from her injuries. Finally, Aaron Cooksey, a convicted drunk driver, relayed a powerful story, reliving his path of destructive choices that led to the death of his best friend.

Following the program, the students filed through the somber Walk of Remembrance, with eleven area families honoring their loved one, killed in a traffic crash.

Elk & Elk sponsored a contest, challenging each school to create a banner containing a message related to the event. John O’Neil presented a check for $2,000 to the winning team from Newton Falls High School, including Sydney Smith, Chasity Oakes and Chelsey Cochran, to help fund alcohol-free prom and graduation activities. A check for $1,000 went to the second place team from Windham High School, comprised of Kaitie Deventure, Kelsey Meszaros, William Hickman and Sierra Knight.

If you are looking for a way to start a conversation with your teen about drinking and driving, print out the Elk & Elk teen drinking and driving pledge today.