On Saturday, April 20, a BMW traveling at high speed became airborne on Lee Chapel Road and hit a tree, leaving two Robinson Secondary School seniors hospitalized, according to the Fairfax County Police. Police also reported that allegedly alcohol was a factor in the accident, and the driver has been charged with driving while intoxicated.
With high-school prom season right around the corner, the schools, police, hotels and limousine companies have joined forces under "Project Hospitality" to combat incidents like this from marring the prom season. Clarence Jones, Fairfax County Public Schools coordinator for safe and drug-free youth, looks at parental involvement as the key.
"That is the biggest key of all. Some still are [drinking and driving] because they feel at this age, nothing will happen to them. I do know that they talk about this in the driver's education classes," Jones said.
This is the seventh year for the project, which is sponsored by the Safe Community Coalition (SCC). McLean parent Sherry Wells is committee chairperson for the project.
"We want to prevent problems from happening," she said.
The project grew "out of the desire of community parents to help their seniors enjoy this special event and to discourage unchaperoned post-prom parties in area hotels, in an effort to reduce the incidents of underage drinking and alcohol-related car accidents," as is stated in their literature. SCC has the support of Richard Zweber of the Virginia Limousine Association; Jim Wordsworth, Virginia director of the National Restaurant Association; Robert Ross, vice president of Arltec which owns the Sheraton Crystal City; and Col. J. Thomas Manger, Fairfax County Chief of Police.
Casey Zell is a senior at Lake Braddock and a former member of BAD, Bruins against Drunk Driving. She has bought her prom dress already and feels that even though the drinking age in Virginia is 21 and drinking while driving is a problem, it's not a problem around prom time because people have limos.
"If you're doing it [drinking] and not driving, I don't think it's a problem. A lot of people are going to be in limos," she said, though limousines are enforcing the rules as well.
Luke Myers, Class of 2001 at West Springfield, plans to take a date to West Springfield's prom this year. He thinks the anticipation of prom night decreases the chances of drinking and driving.
"It's more of a problem in general, not on prom night," he said.
Brian "Yannigan" York also graduated last year from West Springfield High School, and he remembered prom night.
"Last year, we got a room at Marriott that night. There was six or seven parties in the same hotel," he said. "We weren't drinking and driving, we waited until they got to the hotel," he said.
Lake Braddock senior "Jessica," who chose not to give her last name, noted there is always an issue of alcohol, but it's not an "everybody" thing. Some people don't drink at all, while others are more determined.
"They're going to find ways to do it," she said.
West Springfield junior Mahiely Zurita already knows she's going to an after-prom party at the Ritz. She plans on getting a humvee limo with a group of friends.
"At the after-prom parties, nothing but drinking. Drugs isn't the big issue anymore, it's drinking," she said. She also said her parents are making her call when she gets to the hotel.
While all the students talked of alcohol use as a rite of passage in the teen-age years, Jones has heard it once too many times.
"That's a cop-out. You can find that in about every community in America," he said.
A common sight in the front of schools this time of year is a mangled car that was involved in an accident. These scare tactics might get the students thinking, according to Wells.
"I think anything that awakens students to the possibility that they can have an accident is good. Students think they're invincible. We have to use all methods," she said.
Fairfax County Public Schools public information specialist Kitty Porterfield recalled seeing the cars as well.
"It makes an impression on me every time I drive by them," she said.