Fort Mill Times

TAKING THE PLEDGE: Safe prom promises

Louis Petrozza of "Hell's Kitchen" told students about his friend who accidentally killed three teens with her car after driving drunk.
Louis Petrozza of "Hell's Kitchen" told students about his friend who accidentally killed three teens with her car after driving drunk.

For prom night, Aaron Pellot's plan included eating dinner at a Charlotte restaurant and attending a birthday party.

Lucas Smith's plan showcased dinner and an after prom party.

But there's something the Fort Mill High School students won't do prom night.

"Drink," Pellot said.

Lucas added, "Because I can have fun without it."

Pellot and Lucas were among hundreds of Fort Mill High students who turned out last week for WRHI's annual Prom Pledge. During the event -- one of seven planned for students in Chester, Lancaster and York counties -- prom-going students sign pledges promising not to drink alcoholic beverages and drive on their prom night.

And the goal is simple.

"To save lives," said Allan Miller, managing partner of WRHI. "Don't drink and drive. Don't break the law."

The event, held April 22 at the auditorium at Fort Mill High, was held as a grave reminder of what could happen when prom celebrations turned deadly because of drinking alcohol and driving. The presentation came days before the students' prom, held last Saturday. Prom Pledge, introduced decades ago after a teen was killed on prom night, is sponsored by WRHI AM-FM and Interstate 107 with Keystone Substance Abuse Services and York County All On Board.

This week, students at Nation Ford High School as well as those attending high school in Rock Hill and Great Falls High School also will learn how their choices, both good and bad, can impact their futures. They, too, will have a chance to sign their prom pledges to help combat drinking and driving.

The task is large in part because South Carolina highway officials saw a spike in alcohol-related traffic fatalities in 2008 -- a trend-turn-grave reality Kim Parrish knows all about because she had to bury her little brother, Griffen.

Because of alcohol.

"Almost two years ago, my little brother, Griffen, made a choice that would cost him his life," Parrish said as Fort Mill High students listened. "That same day his friends made choices, too. Their choices could have saved his life, but instead they helped contribute to his death."

Griffen and a friend went to Columbia to get a boat title transferred, Parrish said of her 20-year-old brother. The college student was supposed to return home after getting the title transferred, but he didn't.

Instead, Griffen and his 21-year-old friend bought a large bottle of Captain Morgan, another of Crown Royal and some apple juice. When they arrived at a birthday party near Lander University, Griffen was drunk, Parrish said.

"Griffen passed out," she said. "His friends took a permanent marker and began drawing on him. They drew a watch. They drew some eyeglasses. They drew a spirit patch. They even drew a Superman 'G' on his chest."

When Griffen came to, he was angry, she said of her brother, who was kicked out of that party and another one before Griffen's friend told Griffen's family that he left Griffen in the roadway in the passenger seat.

With the keys.

Parrish's mother saw Griffen's friend walk into her yard close to 1 a.m., retrieve his car and leave. But she didn't see her son, Parrish said.

"What she didn't know and would soon find out was that Griffen was laying not hardly a minute away dead on the ground beside the passenger door from a wreck, an unopened Crown Royal bottle at his feet," Parrish said. "His left shoe (was) jammed between the gas and brake pedal."

Griffen's blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit, Parrish said.

"Griffen made a bad choice," Parrish said. "He choose to drink until he passed out. After a choice to drink and some unwise choices by his friends, all we have left are some fond memories and this pair of sneakers."

The auditorium was quiet as Parrish held up her brother's shoes before leaving the stage. Minutes later, Louis Petrozza of "Hell's Kitchen, a reality cook-off TV show, commanded attention as he talked about his friend.

"Missy was really, really cool," he said. "Missy was out with some friends, and she had a few drinks. "Everything was cool until she didn't see the light change to red.

"She goes through the red light and hits a car with four 17-year-olds in it," he said. "She kills three."

The fourth teen, "he barely made it away from death," Petrozza said.

As for Missy, bad choices yielded consequences, he said.

"Missy is in jail for 60 years with no chance of parole," he said.

Then he challenged students to think about their future, marred by bad choices.

"What if you hurt yourself?" he asked. "Lose a leg.... "How bad would that be?

"Imagine going out," he added. "You have a few drinks graduation week. And you die. How about the people at home? What do they feel about that night when they get the call?

"They've got to live with this the rest of their lives," he continued. "This is serious. This is tough stuff. This is something y'all gotta think about when you're making decisions."

Petrozza also encouraged students to find a way to have fun without alcohol.

"You can be yourself and have fun and remember the fun that you had," he said. "Look out for your friends, too. Maybe you can say, 'You don't have to drink to have a good time.'"

And he issued a challenge.

"Have fun," he said. "Do good. Stay sober, and don't get behind the wheel."

For Aaron Pellot, drinking alcohol at the birthday party isn't part of the plan.

"If there's drinking, I'm not going," he said.

Ditto for the after prom party that Lucas Smith planned to attend.

I will leave," Smith said. "I don't want to be associated with any harmful activity."

Instead, both want to live.

"We all want to live to see graduation," Pellot said. Drinking "alcohol might not let someone see graduation."

Principal Dee Christopher recalled losing a student nearly seven years ago.

"Because of drinking and driving," he said.

And last Saturday's prom ushered familiar reservations, he said.

"I'm worried about the choices our students will make," he said. "The worse thing about being a principal is losing a student because of drinking and driving because it can be avoided."

And that's why Allan Miller continues Prom Pledge.

"It reminds them," he said. "It's reinforcement. If we've saved one life, we've accomplished something."