Save-A-Life shows Marines sobering facts of drunk driving

23 Feb 2010 | Lance Cpl. Victor A. Barrera

The gymnasium was filled with random objects: two white screens, a driving simulator, a lone man watching Marines file in and in the corner, an open casket with a board that read “reserved for the next drunk driving victim.”

The Save-A-Life tour arrived at Goettge Memorial Field House aboard Camp Lejeune, to offer service members a chance to hear an individual’s story and participate in events that simulated drunk driving Feb. 23.

Andrew Tipton, a manager for the Save-A-Life program was the speaker who at the age of 19 experienced drunk driving-related deaths that changed his life. Tipton travels to high schools and military installations around the world and tells his story to teenagers, Marines, sailors, and soldiers in and he hopes his story changes the lives.

“I lived with two of my best friends,” said Tipton. “One of them (DJ) I’ve known since I was five years old, the other one (Dan) I’ve known my entire life.”
It was a Sunday afternoon and after having worked on a truck Tipton had decided to drink a few beers.

After having been drinking for a while one of them decided to go down into the woods and check out a remote, motion sensor camera they had set up that captured photographs of any animals walking around. The site was about half a mile away; a quarter of a mile down the road and a quarter into the woods.

“DJ was driving, I was in the passenger seat, Dan was in the back seat,” said Tipton. “We were on the dirt road, something happened, we hit a stump or something. DJ goes to turn the wheel and we hit a tree dead-on going 65 miles an hour.”

The force of the impact threw both Dan and DJ out of the truck; Tipton was the only one wearing his seat belt. Tipton suffered a broken nose from a deployed airbag and his tendons and an artery in his wrist were cut when his hand went through a window.

“Dan’s feet were propped up at the foot of the truck, his face in the mud,” said Tipton. “I rolled him over, he’d lost like six or seven teeth, he was still breathing but his face was just beat up and tore up, I didn’t know what he looked like.”

Tipton then ran to DJ who was eight or nine feet away from the truck. One look and he knew his friend was dead. DJ had smashed his face with the tree that the truck had collided with.

Tipton spent three days in the hospital recovering, the whole time asking how Dan was. On the third day his mother delivered the news that Dan had died from brain swelling.

Tipton attended DJ’s funeral the same day he left the hospital. The next day he attended Dan’s.

“If my story got to one person, if one person listened, it makes all the difference,” said Tipton.

Tipton was one of the many examples of the consequences of driving while intoxicated.

Another example was a lone casket open with a sign that read “reserved for the next drunk driving victim,” another sign laying inside the casket read “do not touch.” The second sign was for a social experiment.

At every seminar Tipton always sees a person go up to the casket and after reading both signs reach out and touch the casket.

“There’s no knowledge to be gained from touching the casket,” said Tipton. “No matter how many laws or rules are set up people will break them. It is human nature for us to learn by consequence.”

Marines were also offered the chance to try driving remote-controlled cars and dribble a basketball through a series of obstacles while wearing beer goggles which simulate drunkenness.

“It got me dizzy when I put them on, I still feel dizzy,” said Pfc. Ulysseus Walker an administration clerk with Company I, who tried to maneuver the basketball course.

The main focus after the speaker was a drunk driving simulator that simulated the impaired reaction time and loss of peripheral vision that occurs when intoxicated.

“At first I was fine, but after the drunkenness increased my reaction time went down and the wheel kept turning after I had turned the steering wheel the opposite way, said Lance Cpl. Christopher Fleming, a patient with the Wounded Warrior Battalion-East. “I’ve seen friends after accidents, some have survived, so this presentation hit home to me.”

While the event had Marines laughing as their friends tried to maneuver the obstacle course and fall down, they did not lose the message that the Save-A-Life tour was putting forth.

The tour was not to stop service members from drinking. The message was on of drinking responsibly, something that is passed to nearly every Marine before they begin a weekend, liberty period, or take leave, but at times still goes ignored.