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Alcoholism & Addiction

Florida Speakers Warn of the Dangers of Drunk Driving

Eight years after Jessica Leslie drove drunk and killed a man, the image of his arm wrapped around her front tire still haunts her. 20-year-old Leslie, who had been the vice-president of her school’s Students Against Drunk Driving, was driving home from an evening of partying in November 2001 when she struck 41-year-old Patrick McDonough. When she asked the responding officer if she had killed someone, he replied, “Yes ma’am, you did.”

Leslie plead guilty to DUI manslaughter, served 18 months in prison, and now spends her time speaking to students and others about the dangers of drunk driving. She recently told her story to about 40 people at a community program at Florida’s Martin County Administrative Center.

“I wanted to be in the United States Air Force to fight the war on terror,” she said. “Now, I’m fighting a different war where about 17,000 kids die a year.”

The program took place about a week after three teenagers from Stuart—Nicholas Coady, 18, Christopher Briglio, 18, and Connor Graver, 16—were killed in a car accident. The Florida Highway Patrol found several crushed beer cans at the crash scene and toxicology reports are still pending.

Justin White, 17, was a friend of the three teens who died as well as three Okeechobee County teens who were killed days earlier in a drunk driving accident in South Florida. “I lost six friends in a matter of days,” said Justin, who started a Martin County SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) group on Facebook to honor his friends. I want the students to know that we’re not invincible. That’s why I’m doing this,” he said.

Beth Stone, whose 14-year-old daughter Sarah was killed in 2002 by a drunk driver, urged those attending to make good choices and for parents to take a more active role in their children’s lives. “It doesn’t just hurt the person involved in the crash…the families ache (for) a lifetime and that person can never be replaced,” Stone said.

Sgt. Mark Middleton said the Martin County Sheriff’s Office is doing everything it can to stop underage drinking. The Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco conducts several undercover operations where underage persons attempt to buy alcohol at convenience stores. This year, 17 people have been arrested and charged with misdemeanor selling alcohol to minors, Middleton said.

Store clerks who are charged are taken to jail and their businesses are cited. After three citations in a month, the business owner is fined $1,000 and the store’s alcohol license is suspended for seven days. However, if the store’s owner is selling to an underage person, the owner is arrested and charged with a misdemeanor, fined $1,000 and the store’s alcohol license is suspended.

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