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White ribbons bring wake-up call

Speeding, racing, drinking, distractions are the leading causes of fatal teen crashes

Posted: May 22, 2009 9:38 p.m.
Updated: May 23, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Valencia High graduate Kevin Svec pins on his white ribbon at Valencia High as he and the 2009 graduating class prepare for their class photo on Friday.

For the first time since 1997, there were no teen names added to the list of students who died in vehicular collisions within the last year and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sergeant Tony Arnold hopes it stays that way.

Arnold passed out white ribbons to a crowd of future Valencia High School graduates sporting their purple-and-gold caps and gowns for class pictures on Friday. The ribbons memorialize local students who have died in reckless crashes and are intended to remind students to drive safely.

"You're all going into a period where you're going to be thinking about partying for summer. Do it responsibly," said Arnold, as he addressed the bleacher-seated crowd.

The White Ribbon Campaign began in 1997 in response to concerns over the large number of local teenagers who lost their lives in vehicular collisions as a result of someone driving recklessly or impaired.

When students received the white ribbon, which they can pin to their graduation robes, it is attached to a card carrying the names of students who have lost their lives in vehicular collisions since 2004.

The Class of 2003 White Ribbon Card listed 17 students killed since 1998. This year's Class of 2009 card lists the names of eight teens killed since 2004: Evan Richard Ames, Melvin Ross M. Beleno, Gianina Maria Felix, Maribel Gonzalez-Diaz, Taylor LaKamp, Zach Legreid, Robert Leinbach III and Christopher Singer.

"Some of those students went to the school you're at today. They walked those same hallways," Arnold said to the Valencia seniors.
Arnold said it's a time for students to celebrate completing 13 years of school, but with celebration comes the need to think responsibly.

The list of deceased students hit home with student Steven Maldonado, 18.

"It's really important we're aware of this. It's a sad thing if they don't get the chance to graduate," said Maldonado, who is less than a week away from graduating with the rest of his class.

Arnold explained three reasons why young adults "end their lives too early," as he put it: speeding and racing; impaired driving, either because of alcohol, drugs, or sleepiness; and distractions such as cell-phone use, texting, dropping an item or passenger distractions.

Arnold encouraged students who are feeling sleepy while driving, or who have had an alcoholic beverage, to call a parent or call Safe Rides.

Safe Rides has provided more than 1,492 rides to teens in the valley during 2008.

Michelle Estrada, 17, was one of the hundreds of Valencia seniors who pinned their white ribbons to their robes Friday.

"I'm totally against drunk driving," she said. "So I think it's good to bring awareness about (safe driving), especially with graduation coming up and people will be partying. It's just a good reminder and it'll safe lives."

Jonathan Brutsche, 18, and his group of friends said the message hit them, but they weren't so sure it impacted everyone.

"Some kids just brush it off. Some high-school kids think they're invincible until it happens to them," said Brutsche, who go recently got in an accident after driving sleepy.

Dr. Paul Priesz, Valencia High's principal, said the White Ribbon Campaign is bringing awareness about safe driving to students.

"It gets students to think about (being safe) in combination with the Every 15 Minutes program," he said referring to a mock fatal crash-scene hosted by schools to give students a wake-up call on drunk driving. "You get around prom and graduation time, and students tend to let down a little. (The campaign) is effective in getting students to think about it."

The White Ribbon Campaign is part of the Drive Safe Program, initiated by Frontier Toyota with the assistance of several community organizations including Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station, Safe Rides, and the City of Santa Clarita.

The Campaign will make its way to the West Ranch, Hart, Saugus, Canyon and Golden Valley schools before May 29.

The event is sponsored by the city of Santa Clarita, Frontier Toyota, Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Department, Safe Rides, The Signal and the Blue Ribbon Task Force.

The Santa Clarita Valley Safe Rides phone number is (661) 259-6330.


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