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Lost Weekend : Teens Drive Drunk While Scouts Wait in Vain to Offer Safe Rides

May 11, 1986|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Last Saturday night went by slowly for a group of teen-agers gathered to provide safe rides home for peers too drunk to drive.

In the well-lit command center at Will J. Reid Scout Park, they whiled away the hours May 3 by watching MTV and playing Monopoly while two adult advisers chatted idly at a table nearby.

Elsewhere in the city, others were spending their weekend in different ways. Between Friday and Sunday of that weekend six people under 18 were arrested for drunk driving, a number Sgt. Larry Enger of the Long Beach Police Department called typical.

It was precisely that, or worse, that the youths in the park--members of Long Beach Explorers Post 208--had hoped to prevent. But nobody called them on that Saturday night. Nor, except for a few cranks, had anyone called the night before. So $5,000 worth of new radio equipment remained untested. And young people who had come expecting to provide service ended up sitting around twiddling their thumbs.

Scared to Call

"I came to help, but it doesn't look like we're giving much help," said David Masters, 15. "Maybe people are scared to call."

Jay Frushour, 26, post adviser and one of the coordinators of this ambitious plan now in its third weekend, observed: "It's going to take some time."

Indeed, it had already taken some time if one counted the planning and preparation. A program promoted over the past four years by various organizations around the country, Safe Rides was endorsed about 18 months ago by the national Boy Scout organization. Almost immediately the Long Beach Area Council of the Boy Scouts, of which Explorers is a part, decided to implement it locally.

Concern for Teen-Agers

"We have a growing concern (regarding) alcohol-related accidents (involving) teen-agers," said Dominic Iapello, Explorer director for the council, which conducted a feasibility study and put in six months of organizing before beginning the program. "We thought it was a very worthwhile program for some of our young adults to get involved in."

Nationwide, according to statistics compiled by the National Council on Alcoholism, 31% of all high school students are misusing alcohol--drunk at least six times a year--with another 15% using alcohol in excess up to five times a year. Among drivers age 16 to 19, according to the statistics, the leading cause of death is auto accidents, and of those, more than 50% are caused by drunk drivers.

Local school officials say they believe the statistics for Long Beach are consistent with the national averages.

31 Boys and Girls

As an antidote to those grim figures, the Boy Scout council formed Post 208, a group of 31 boys and girls ages 14 to 18 dedicated specifically to providing safe rides to any of their peers willing to dial ICUSAFE (428-7233) from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. any Friday or Saturday night.

In addition to those who drink, said Joseph Matthews, post president, the program is designed to help teen-agers whose dates become too inebriated to drive them home safely.

"I know a lot of kids who drink," said Matthews, 15. "They brag about it and think it's a game. It's scary."

By rotating their shifts, he said, post members hope to make the rides available every weekend, with younger members manning the phones and a battery of two-way radios while older members act as chauffeurs in their own or parents' cars.

Cost Put at $25,000

Eventually, organizers say, the program--expected to cost about $25,000 to be raised from grants and personal contributions--will use cars based near each area high school and dispatched by radios at the Will J. Reid park on Daisy Avenue.

Vital to the program's success, they said, is the promise of anonymity to anyone who calls for a ride. "If he can walk in (his house), I won't say anything to his parents," Matthews said. "We have to reassure them that their (friends and) parents won't know."

Not everyone is thrilled with the idea.

Rosaylene Mix, coordinator of Grassroots Alcohol and Drug Education, a PTA-sponsored group in the Norwalk-La Mirada area, said her organization declined to participate in a Safe Rides program there because of the "mixed message" it seemed to give youths. "Our thing is to try to get them away from alcohol," Mix said. "Safe Rides is saying it's OK if you (drink), just don't get behind the wheel of a car."

Schools Can't Solve It

But Long Beach Unified School District officials said they like the Safe Rides concept, though they have not formally endorsed it. "We think it's a fine thing," said Chuck Carpenter, deputy superintendent of instruction for the district. "This is a huge social problem and schools can't (solve) it by themselves."

So far the Explorers have relied mainly on fliers distributed at Mayfair and Bellflower high schools in the Bellflower Unified School District to spread the word of their service. The lack of publicity elsewhere, many say, may be one reason for the dearth of response so far.

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