Police hope Norwich tragedy prevents other alcohol-fueled crashes
Burlington, Vermont - October 4, 2011
The images are heart-wrenching; young lives lost in one way or another to underage drinking and driving.
"I just want to say how sorry my client feels for the terrible tragedy that occurred here," said Douglas Kallen, the lawyer for Derek Seber.
At Norwich University a college freshman is dead and her classmate is charged with the fatal DUI. But Norwich is certainly not the only campus battling booze.
'Every college campus in this country struggles with underage drinking," said Annie Stevens, who heads Student Life at UVM.
Stevens says often times underage drinking starts in middle and high schools. Colleges inherit the issue. A transition that can be tough for freshman.
"Until they find ways to be connected in other ways that don't involve alcohol they struggle that first year," Stevens said.
"There's definitely some pressure to drink," said Jake McGinnis, a freshman at UVM.
But for McGinnis, mixing drinking and driving isn't worth the risk.
"Just don't do it. It's never a good idea," McGinnis said. "If you need a cab I'll pay for one for you, I don't want to see you or anyone else in danger."
According to police, 16- to 24-year-olds are already the most at-risk age group on the road. Mixing alcohol doesn't help.
"Around this age people think they're invincible and we're not and we don't really think about the repercussions for that," said Lisa Chamberland, a junior at UVM.
"These are preventable incidents that are taking place" Vt. State Police Lt John Flannigan said.
Flannigan heads the Governor's Highway Safety Program. He says Vermont's alcohol-related fatalities have steadily declined since the 1990s. Five percent of all fatal crashes this year have involved drunk drivers 21 or younger. That's a 50 percent improvement over this same time last year. But he says more work needs to be done.
"We still have a long way to go and it certainly is still a critical area that we're working on both enforcement, prevention, education and awareness," Flannigan said.
"The important thing, too, is to have friends who are close to you to keep you in check," Chamberland said.
College kids say when law enforcement and higher education's messages fail to connect, peers need to step in.
"It doesn't matter how close you're going, anything can happen and it's not just you that you could be affecting. It could be someone else. And that's what's scary," Chamberland said.
Many colleges have programs to help students out as well. Norwich University has partnered with the Northfield Police department to offer safe rides home to intoxicated students, no questions asked. UVM has a policy that wipes out disciplinary sanctions for intoxicated students who seek medical help.
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