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Tears flow at town hall meeting
By Brian Beckley
There were police and doctors, community leaders and even a 17-year-old recovering alcoholic, all talking about the dangers of underage drinking, but it was Sharon Reynon and her daughter Kayla that silenced the more than 125 people at a town hall meeting on underage drinking.
Reynon's daughter Alicia was killed in a car accident two years ago and as she held up a photo of Alicia, tears welled in the eyes of many of the students and parents in the audience.
“This is all I have of my middle daughter,” Reynon said. “Alicia was so full of life. You would have loved her.”
Alicia and her friends had been out drinking, something her mother said Alicia did not usually do. After finishing at least three lemonade-tasting alcoholic beverages, the 18-year-old - just weeks from graduation - climbed into the backseat of her new car, leaving a friend, who was also drunk and high on marijuana, to drive.
The driver lost control at more than 80 mph, crashing into a utility pole, destroying the car and taking both of their young lives.
Since the accident that claimed her daughter's life, Reynon has been speaking at the DUI impact panel and brought her story to Bonney Lake High School last week to try and reach students about the danger of drinking and urge parents to get more involved with in their children's lives.
“I know that she would want other kids to hear (her story) so maybe she could change the lives of someone else,” Reynon said. “I want these kids to realize it only takes one time.”
For many of the kids in attendance, it was a startling look into the realities that drinking could bring on.
“To hear something like that kind of scared me,” Rachel Wiegand, 15, said.
It was exactly the type of response the event's organizers were hoping to get.
“I think the speakers were very effective in getting the message out to students and adults,” Renee Tinder, STARR project program assistant and Reducing Underage Drinking Coordinator said. “It makes me feel like we accomplished what we set out for.”
Along with Reynon, the town hall meeting featured Johnny, a 17-year-old recovering alcoholic from Puyallup. In his first speaking engagement, Johnny, who asked his last name not be used, told about starting to drink when he was in junior high school, eventually taking several shots before going to school and sipping all day long on a mixture of Mountain Dew and Goldschlager.
As his grades began to slip, his drinking increased.
“I tried to escape my reality,” he said. “It became a routine which I didn't like.”
After passing out one day in school, Johnny was awakened by a deputy and then arrested.
“It's a really bad feeling to see your parents bail you out of jail,” he said. “I couldn't look my dad in the eyes for about six months. I couldn't talk to him for about eight.”
Johnny eventually sought rehab and has now been clean for one year and 10 months
Johnny said alcohol was always around and “as soon as the opportunity came, I jumped on it.” He hopes other students will hear his story and realize they have a chance to change or to not begin drinking at all.
According to Sharon Cleary, a counselor at Horizon Drug Rehab Center, Kids are starting to drink at a younger age than ever, many in elementary school.
Dr. Ron Morris also spoke about the effects drinking can have on still-developing bodies and minds. Alcohol prevents connections in the brain from being fully developed and because of their youth, teens are often more susceptible to addiction than adults.
Morris also said most kids emulate behaviors they seen their parents and in the media and often get their first drinks at home.
“That's what we're here to try and stop,” he said.
School Resource Officer Rob Kearney echoed the sentiment, telling a story of a 14-year-old who died from alcohol poisoning.
“The only way we're going to stop it from happening is by getting the word out,” he said.
Following the town hall meeting, which was plagued by technical difficulties and ran out of time, a breakout group on substance abuse was held.
According to Sumner Police Chief Colleen Wilson, who headed the group, there were discussions of a multi-agency party emphasis, much like a DUI emphasis. There was also talk, mainly on the part of teens, about getting more information out to the public.
“It's up to all of us,” Wilson said. “It was very energizing.”
Organizers called the meeting a success, even if only one person was affected.
For Wiegand, who said she is often around drinking at parties, the evening had a very real effect. After seeing the pictures of Alicia Reynon and her destroyed car, Wiegand said she thought those images will pop up next time she is at a party.
“Feels like it's going to stay,” she said.
Brian Beckley can be reached at email@example.com.