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Police DWI Program Debuts

It was a combination of the "drunken goggles," the tight turns and Officer Mike Blancke screaming in Megan Taylor's face that made the 15-year-old knock over eight cones on the obstacle course. Those added distractions were intentional, as the West Springfield's driver’s education students acted as guinea pigs for the Fairfax County Police Department "DWI Convincer" program on Friday, April 25.

The goggles affected Megan the most.

"I was really dizzy, and I couldn't control anything. It shows you how bad the crash could have been," she said.

The program was tried out at West Springfield and could be incorporated as a regular part of the driver's education program. Jerry Stemler, the Fairfax County Police Department's DWI coordinator, monitored the progress. Stemler and the officers at the West Springfield District Station coordinated the class with the West Springfield driver's education instructor, Ken Munoz.

"Our purpose is to talk about driving and drinking," Stemler said.

Although alcohol awareness is part of the regular driver's education program, this course added another dimension. Students could get behind the wheel, walk a straight line, stand on one foot and try to shoot a basketball wearing the goggles, which simulate a blood alcohol content of .06. An alcohol blood content of .08 is legally impaired.

"We cover the law and the basic facts on alcohol. This takes it a step further," Munoz added.

Krystal Marinay, 15, tried walking the straight line and standing on one foot.

"Everything was everywhere," she said. "You felt like you were going to tip over."

OTHER WEST SPRINGFIELD students were manning the video cameras and providing videos to the students, so each could see how he or she did. Watching the tape was part of an assignment.

"You have to take it home to your parents, and they have to write a comment about it," said Andrea Gibbs, 15.

With prom season and graduation approaching, the timing of the lesson was appropriate. Munoz didn't think the age was a factor.

"Even though they're younger, a lot of these students still go to the prom," he said.

Brendon Mahoney, 15, didn't think age was a factor, either.

"You could have older friends. Drivers don't always die in crashes, sometimes passengers do," he said.

Dr. David Smith, principal, took time to check the progress of the program.

"I think anything that heightens kids’ awareness about the danger of alcohol is good," he said.

Blancke hopes it catches on.

"This is a pilot program," he said. "If it works here, we might expand it."

Stemler was not sure how widespread the program might be or how it would be funded.

"We're hoping our SROs (school resource officers) can make this available in schools," Stemler said.