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DISNEYLAND OUT; DESIGNATED DRIVERS IN.

Byline: Mary Schubert Daily News Staff Writer

A city-sponsored teen outing to Disneyland for a New Year's Eve party was canceled due to lack of interest, but young revelers who want to end the year safely still can rely on the service of a local group.

Volunteers for Santa Clarita Valley Safe Rides will be on duty to help teens who opted to stay in town to ring in the new year but find themselves unable to drive, or stuck with a designated driver who drank something stronger than sodas and punch.

The organization, founded 11 years ago this month, is staffed by teen volunteers. According to a Safe Rides brochure, the volunteers provide ``free and confidential safe rides home to youths who are not in a condition to drive safely, or to any teen who wants to avoid being a passenger in such a situation.''

Meanwhile, the 10-hour party at Disneyland attracted only a handful of sign-ups even though the $60 tickets included round-trip bus transportation and admission to the Magic Kingdom from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. The event had been organized by the city parks department.

``Forty (sign-ups) would have broken us even,'' said Troy Brown, a recreation specialist for the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Service. ``We do these type of activities to provide teens with a safe and inexpensive way to bring in the new year.''

But organizers apparently misjudged the level of enthusiasm for a party more than 60 miles away. ``The 900 people who could have signed up probably just found other things to do,'' Brown said. ``They just didn't show an interest in it.''

Last year, the city-sponsored New Year's Eve party was held at Mountasia in Canyon Country and it drew several hundred youths, Brown said.

Despite the anemic response to the Magic Kingdom teen bash, Brown said city recreation officials are undaunted. ``We have always done New Year's Eve parties and will continue to do them,'' he said.

``I'm going to try to find out what type of things the teens want to do on New Year's. Maybe we were a little off base,'' Brown said.

Santa Clarita Valley Safe Rides was formed in December 1986 in reaction to a spate of crashes that killed six local teen-agers during a 15-month period.

Drunk driving played a part in all of the fatal incidents.

Safe Rides co-founder and adviser Penny Upton describes the last night of the year as the ``most unpredictable night'' for volunteers, who often field calls from adults but have to tell them the free-ride service is only for youths.

``I don't think it is as busy for teen-agers as we would expect. Personally, I think it's because kids can make a lot of money baby sitting on New Year's Eve,'' Upton said.

There are two times of year when demand for Safe Rides' service is greatest. ``The fall is when the party season hits high gear. Our busiest time is usually right when school starts,'' Upton said. ``Our second busiest time is right when school lets out (for the summer). There's a lot of stress relief.''

As a Safe Rides volunteer, J.J. Williams, 18, usually works a weekend shift twice a month. Safe Rides operates on Friday and Saturday nights, 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

A family misfortune compelled Williams to join Safe Rides two years ago. The Saugus High School senior now serves as co-president of the organization.

Four years ago, his police officer father, Jeff, was working at a sobriety checkpoint for the Los Angeles Police Department's Valley Traffic Division. ``He got run over by a drunk driver, and he nearly died,'' Williams said. ``He got hurt really bad.''

The car hit his father, first knocking him onto the hood and then driving over him. ``This guy noticed that there was a big line of cars. He turned around to go out of the DUI checkpoint,'' Williams recalled. ``He backed up and tried to flee the scene.''

Eventually, his father's injuries forced him to retire after 18 years with the LAPD. ``He's doing pretty good now. His right arm doesn't have (its former) mobility, and his knees are all messed up,'' Williams said. ``But we're lucky he survived.''

``When my dad got hurt, I (thought): I'm going to try to prevent (drunk driving). I'm going to go out and tell people my story.''

A few times each school year, Safe Rides representatives visit the local high schools on recruiting drives, asking teens to join as drivers, navigators or dispatchers. The group has about 100 members, Williams said.

Teen dispatchers take incoming calls from youths who need a ride home. Co-ed teams of driver and navigator then pick up the caller, all the while keeping in touch via cellular phone with the dispatcher back at Safe Rides' base.

The volunteer drivers provide their own transportation, either their own vehicle or the family car. The organization typically has more girls in its membership than boys. There especially is a need for male drivers to work on the co-ed teams, she said.

The shortage could be the result of boys needing to get jobs or wanting to begin dating once they get their driver's license or buy their first car, Upton said. Volunteering then becomes less of a priority.

Safe Rides is seeking volunteers in grades 9 through 12 who are able to work one night per month. Those who don't have driver's licenses are put to work as dispatchers. Safe Rides drivers must be licensed for at least six months and have a good driving record, Upton said.

Navigators have to be licensed as well, but for a minimum of one month.

Safe Rides asks the teens they have served to provide some feedback about what school they attend and how they heard about the group. Most of the youths tell the volunteers that they sought out the ride to avoid having to call their parents. ``That's not their first choice if they're in trouble,'' Upton said.

Williams remembered one situation that hit close to home. ``I picked up a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old. Their dad was just too drunk to pick them up from the movie theater,'' he said. ``It was like midnight, too. That just made me sick.''

Upton said she's gladdened teens seem to be heeding society's warnings about driving under the influence. ``The whole idea of, I'm not getting in the car if someone has been drinking, is really catching on,'' she said.

Meanwhile, Williams is struck by an irony involving the drunk driver who injured his father.

``He got 36 months in jail. That's it,'' Williams said. ``And my dad's still in pain.''
COPYRIGHT 1997 Daily News
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 30, 1997
Words:1117
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