The message was simple and direct, and the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office hopes it made it to its intended audience.
Members of the ECSO’s traffic enforcement unit discussed being safe behind the wheel and in a vehicle with members of the South Effingham High School graduating class Wednesday morning. Their presentation included a video describing two traffic accidents that claimed the lives of three members of the ECHS graduating class, complete with scenes from the accidents and interviews with loved ones left behind.
The video also had a tearful plea from Vicki Stafford, mother of Josh Stafford, killed last month in a wreck on Midland Road:
“We’ve always tried to get the kids to drive responsibly, drive defensively, like they should,” said ECSO Sgt. Brian Mundy of the traffic enforcement unit. “It’s not an issue of trying to hammer home (the point), as much as it is to educate them and get them to slow down. That’s part of the reason why the traffic unit was brought about, to free up the deputies to work on that specific issue, to reduce wrecks and fatalities in this county.”
Mundy and SEHS Principal Dr. Mark Winters told the students that they know there will be a propensity for graduation celebrations to include activities in which they shouldn’t be taking part — but asked students not to compound the problems.
“As you think about and do all kinds of things celebrating, you’re going to be out on the highway, I want you to be careful,” Winters said.
Mundy implored the students that if they start drinking alcohol not to get back out on the road and don’t get into a vehicle with someone who has been drinking.
The video has interviews with Melissa Hall, Neil Morgan’s mother, and Becca Quarterman, a senior at Effinham County High School and Morgan’s girlfriend, along with Sandra Newman, mother of Whitney Newman, and Vicki Stafford.
“That’s three young people who never got to graduate, who never got to grow up,” Mundy told the SEHS seniors. “Have a good time — but be smart.”
Newman and Morgan died as a result of a one-car accident in late June 2010 when the vehicle they were passengers in overturned on Clyo-Stillwell Road. None of the people in the Chevrolet Tracker, all teenagers, were using seatbelts.
Stafford was killed last month when the pickup he was a passenger in collided with another vehicle on Midland Road. Speed appears to have been a factor in the wreck that killed Stafford, Mundy said.
“It’s choices,” he said. “That’s all it is.”
The ECSO’s traffic enforcement unit has been on the roads since November. In that time, traffic deputies have issued more than 4,000 tickets and arrested more than 300 people for offenses including reckless driving, driving under the influence and drug possession, among others.
The traffic enforcement unit has been a longstanding goal of Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie’s, and its aim is more than just ensuring drivers on the road are operating safely — it’s to get drivers to think that way before they get on the road.
“The fatalities in this county were horrific; they were horrible,” Mundy said. “We had more fatalities per capita in this county than anybody else. In the last 10 years, half of our fatalities were teenagers.”
Speed, a lack of seat belt use and making poor choices led to the fatal accidents involving teens, Mundy said. The recent accidents involving teenagers spurred McDuffie to have the sheriff’s office put together the video.
“That’s why the sheriff wanted it done,” Mundy said. “We’re realists; we know what’s going to go on. We’re not going to stick our heads in the sand, that they’re not going to participate in any illegal parties. But if we could just get them to be responsible, if they need a ride to call a parent or call us — we’ll give them a ride. That’s our major goal, just to make sure they make it home.
“If it just saves one life, it’s met its goal.”