DRUNK DRIVING KILLS
VEHICLE DISPLAY INCREASES AWARENESS
Published: Monday, October 7, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 7, 2013 14:10
On a July evening in 2012, the Deutscher family of West Fargo was headed west on I-94 towards Bismarck. In a split second the family of three and their unborn child were killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver just outside of Jamestown, N.D.
Aaron Deutscher, his pregnant wife, Allison, and their 18-month-old daughter, Brielle, were on their way to visit Aaron Deutscher’s parents in Bismarck when a man with a lengthy history of impaired driving offenses struck their vehicle.
Their 2009 Subaru Forester, which became nearly unrecognizable, was on display Thursday, Oct. 3 on the south side of the Memorial Union as part of NDSU’s Impaired Driving Awareness Week.
Officer Chris Potter of the NDSU police has served in the police force for 20 years. He was not at the scene of the accident last summer, but the vehicle still shook him when he saw it for the first time.
“I had to take about 30 seconds and just stare at it and try to imagine the violence of a crash like that and the tragedy of five people losing their lives,” he said.
The front end is crushed to the center of the vehicle. A sign accompanying the display had an equation that read, “9 beers + 3 tequilas + 3 hours = 5 deaths.” On the opposite side of the sign was a Deutscher family portrait.
Amid all the destruction, one striking detail remained: a diaper bag resting in the backseat.
“I’ve handled fatality accidents and I’ve seen the worst, [but] that struck me yesterday,” Potter said. “I thought about that for a long time last night.”
“Here’s this family driving to visit relatives, and they were all buckled up properly. They did everything right,” he said. “They weren’t consuming alcohol, but because of a poor choice from another human being, not only is that person gone, but this whole family. It’s devastating.”
As students and faculty passed the Deutscher family’s car, many stopped to stare. A police officer who stood near the car that day told Potter that the majority of reactions were “stunned silence.”
Brooke Rempfer, a sophomore marketing major, lost her cousin to a drunk driving accident. His girlfriend fell asleep at the wheel after consuming alcohol.
“[The Deutschers’ car] was really scary and it hit me pretty hard,” Rempfer said. “It made me think how serious it is to not drink and drive, even if you had a little bit.”
Potter explained that he does not believe in scare tactics as a method of compliance, especially for young adults. For him, the Deutscher car is different.
“Having a graphic reminder of the potential for drunk driving and what those tragic results can be, to see it right in front of your own eyes, is far different from reading about it in a newspaper or seeing it on a television news broadcast,” he said.
In Fargo over 1,000 DUI arrests are made per year. These offenses encompass drivers who are not only drunk, but those who are on illicit or prescription drugs.
Potter said the Fargo police only catch a small percentage of people who drive intoxicated, because the average drunk driver drives more than 40 times before ever being caught.
The NDSU President’s Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs teamed up with campus police to sponsor Impaired Driving Awareness Week, not because college students display more impaired driving, but because it is a message all age groups must learn.
According to alcoholalert.com, 48 percent of car accident fatalities in North Dakota in 2011 involved alcohol, only 3 percent below the state with the highest percentage, North Carolina. Intoxicated drivers under the age of 21 committed 25 percent of these offenses.
Due to a combination of North Dakota culture and inadequate legislation, Potter said he feels that it is necessary to educate people on the risks and statistics of impaired driving at any age.
“It’s critical to sending this strong message, especially in this part of the country that we recognize alcohol consumption among youth is a problem,” he said. “But an even greater problem beyond that are the number of folks who get behind the wheel after they’ve been drinking.”
Other events occurred throughout Impaired Driving Awareness Week to drive home that message.
A Live Real Mentor Basic session was held the day before the Deutscher family’s vehicle display. It educated attendees on the importance of creating a safe and healthy environment, as well as on the risks of alcohol and drug use.
Vince Ulstad, an NDSU alumnus, was blinded in 2009 after being struck by a drunk driver while on a business trip in western North Dakota. Since then he has been speaking to groups around the area and was a guest at Saturday’s Bison football game against University of Northern Iowa. His public service announcement was played during the game as part of the educational week.
The overall goal of the week is to make a difference in students’ opinions on getting behind the wheel after drinking, Potter said. The NDSU police force was on extra youth alcohol-enforcing duties throughout the week.
“If it causes our students to take that extra moment to either make a better decision, call a cab, or to step in and intervene when they see a friend who’s about to drive who’s been drinking…that’s success, he said. “It’s done what it’s intended to do.”