Car accidents are the leading cause of teenage deaths. This statistic is what prompted Middlesex County District Attorney Gerry Leone, Interim Somerville Chief of Police Mike Cabral, School Superintendent Tony Pierantozzi, and probation officer Linda Donovan to lecture a crowd of nearly 400 high school students about the hazards of substance abuse, and the importance of not becoming a statistic.
"We don't expect you to be perfect," Leone addressed the students, "but we expect you to be really good."
The speakers told personal stories about people they knew over the years who had become entangled in substance abuse. Leone, telling a very frank example, had come from a high school where, by his senior year, one senior had died in a car accident for the previous nine years - and in his senior year, a girl had suffocated behind the wheel of her overturned car after losing control. She and some friends had decided to skip school and spend the afternoon drinking.
Leone described this as a situation where "a lot of bad decisions compounded into a tragedy." He said that this could have all been prevented had just one of the girls spoke out against drinking that day. He encouraged each high schooler to "stand up, be a leader, and show some courage," even if this would make you "momentarily unpopular."
Linda Donovan explained the procedures for drunk driving indictments, from the initial night in jail to the court hearings, warning the students that, at the end of it all, "You don't want to meet me." A drunk driving offense can stay on your record for 10 years, prohibiting the perpetrator from becoming a nurse, joining the marines, or, as she retold a story of a student she once had on parole, it could exclude you from going on a cruise with your family, as someone on probation may be restricted from leaving the state.
Superintendent Tony Pierantozzi told the students that not only could consumption compromise their own futures, but also their parents' futures as well. He explained the law of Social Host Liability, where the owner of a house is responsible for what occurs there, even if not present at the time. "Animal House syndrome is great for Hollywood," Pierantozzi said, "but not for real life."
These stories had a potent impact on freshmen members of the Somerville track team Ruth Grossman and Samantha Pitkin, who found the event "Really informative," and were convinced to not get caught up in this kind of high school experience.
Students from not only Somerville, but Medford, Malden and Everett who were in attendance, were struck by the honesty of the speakers. Somerville senior Jonathan Clegg was particularly struck with Gerry Leone's powerful speech.
"You could really tell that Gerry Leone had a heart and really cares about the student population," he said.