A Shot of Reality

A Shot of Reality

Bullis students get a lesson on the dangers of drinking and driving from someone who knows.

Brandon Silveria has been to Hell and back. Now he spends his days trying to keep kids from following in his footsteps.

Silveria was a star athlete and a popular guy during his high school years growing up in California. During his junior year, his dream of rowing for Boston College’s crew team was within reach when he received a scholarship offer from the school.

Life was great for Brandon Silveria. As his junior year wound down, Brandon was making the party rounds during prom season. One Saturday night he went to a party, had a few beers, then drove home.

The phone rang in the Silveria household around midnight.

“That’s the call you never want to get,” said Tony Silveria, Brandon ’s father. “When the phone rings in the middle of the night, as a parent, you know something’s wrong.” Brandon had been in a car accident and things did not look good. Brandon’s mother and father rushed to the accident. The hope that Tony Silveria had held out as he rushed to the accident scene evaporated when he saw the damage that had been done to Brandon’s car. Brandon, it turned out, had fallen asleep at the wheel and crashed head-on into a tree. His car had then rolled back into the road and was struck by an oncoming car. He was a mile and a half from his home.

Tony Silveria thought there was no way his son would survive the accident. Everything seemed lost, including Brandon’s dream of competing in the highest ranks of rowing.

“That Saturday night, the dream ended,” said Tony Silveria.

TWENTY YEARS AND $4 million dollars in medical bills later, Brandon Silveria is alive. He spent two and a half months in intensive therapy and a total of two years of rehabilitation and relearning everything, starting with speech and the most basic motor skills.

Today Silveria, 37, is able to walk and speak, though he does neither with much grace because of the permanent brain damage he suffered when he crashed his car.

“His speech sucks and his memory is really bad,” said Tony Silveria. “In fact if you ask Brandon what he had this morning for breakfast, he can’t tell you.”

He takes pills four times each day to ward off potentially fatal seizures.

He has also spoken to more than 2 million students about his experience in an effort to keep them from making the same mistake he did.

Brandon and his father Tony came to an assembly at The Bullis School on Wednesday, May 4 to share their experience with the Bullis high school students, in an attempt to change how they approach the parties that invariably come with prom and graduation season. The event was organized by Maryland State Delegate Bill Bronrott (D-16) and The Century Council, a national non-profit organization supported by distillers dedicated to fighting drunk driving and underage drinking.

As Brandon spoke, his slurred speech and high-pitched voice had almost as much of an impact as his frank retelling of his story. He warned students of the consequences of peer pressure and bad decisions. He pointed to himself as an example that all can be lost in just a flash.

“I had the world at my fingertips,” Silveria said. “That all changed forever because of one simple choice I made.”

“This happened to me because I made stupid choices,” Silveria said. “First [I made] the choice to drink, then the choice to drive. After all, what was going to happen to me? I was invincible, right? Right.”

TRAFFIC CRASHES, many influenced by alcohol, are the number one cause of brain injury to teens in the U.S. , Bronrott said. According to The Century Council, 676 youths under the age of 21 were killed in alcohol-related traffic fatalities during the prom and graduation season (April, May, June).

Tom Farquhar, the head of Bullis, said that the school usually has a police officer come into school during prom season to warn the students about drinking and driving. Farquhar said that he hoped having Brandon Silveria speak to the kids would leave an even greater impression.

“It was pretty powerful,” said Bullis senior Kevin Henry. “It definitely sent a message across.”

“It really had an impact on me and my friends,” said junior Kim Harrison. Harrison had been planning on driving to prom with her boyfriend, but after hearing Brandon ’s story she said she is reconsidering.

“I just said to my friend that I’d rather take a limo than drive to prom now.”

Bronrott urged Bullis students to exercise caution and good judgment.

“Stop, think, and make the right choice this prom and graduation season,” Bronrott said.

Silveria said that he knows that some students might want to think that what happened to him couldn’t happen to them.

“I can tell you not to drink, and I know some of you won’t,” Silveria said. “I also know some of you do or will. Make sure you completely understand one thing … that you have to take complete responsibility for the choices you make.”

The consequences of not accepting that responsibility can be dire, Silveria said.

“I hope to God that none of you ever have to go through what I went through.”