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Service Offers Teens a 'Safe Ride' : Nonprofit Group Drives Home Point of Not Driving Drunk

March 05, 1987|STEPHANIE O'NEILL | Times Staff Writer

Just after 11:30 one night last May, F. Andrew Oldfield, then a 16-year-old sophomore at Polytechnic High School in Pasadena, was driving home from a teen-age beer party.

While rounding a curve on Linda Vista Avenue, he lost control of his 1968 Chevrolet Camaro and slammed on the brakes. The car spun off the road, smashing into a freeway sign and a tree before skidding to a final thunderous crash against the concrete base of a light post.

"At the time I wouldn't have told you I was drunk. I would have said I hit the turn too fast," he said recently. "But I've gone over that road a lot of times and hit the curve too fast and didn't crash. Obviously, it was the alcohol."

Oldfield escaped with a bloody nose and some bruises. And although he demolished his car and was convicted of drunk driving, he considers himself fortunate.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 12, 1987 Home Edition Glendale Part 9 Page 2 Column 6 Zones Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
The wrong photograph was published with an article on March 5 about the Angeles Crest Safe Rides service. The caption listed five volunteers but the photo showed four other volunteers: Ti McCormick, Perry Hamilton, Susan Watson and Mindy Arellano.

"If somebody were in the passenger side, they probably would have been dead," he said.

Today Oldfield is among more than 70 local teen-agers participating in Angeles Crest Safe Rides, a service designed to keep drunk youngsters off the roads.

Teen-agers who call (818) 790-0492 between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays receive a free and confidential ride home from any location in Glendale, La Canada Flintridge, Sunland, Tujunga and in parts of Eagle Rock and Pasadena.

Known formally as Angeles Crest Safe Rides Explorers Post 2207, the nonprofit organization is affiliated with Boy Scouts of America. It is among more than a dozen Safe Rides chapters scattered throughout Los Angeles County.

More than 100 area teen-agers have dialed a ride from the local chapter, started last May by four St. Francis High School seniors, said Ken Rogers, coordinator of the program and a teacher at St. Francis.

The organization has nearly 100 members, including 20 adults and 72 students from nine public and private high schools within the Safe Rides service boundaries.

"When we first started, we were criticized a bit by people who thought we were condoning teen-age drinking," Rogers said. He tells critics that they don't condone teen drinking and "if they were being realistic, they would have to understand that it does happen."

"Realistically (alcohol) is available to them," agreed Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Sgt. Santo Marino. He thinks the program is something every community should have. "The alternative," he said, "is drunk teens who get behind the wheel of a car."

Each Friday and Saturday night, a Safe Rides team composed of a driver, a passenger, a radio dispatcher, a telephone operator and an adult supervisor meet in a room at the La Canada Youth Center on Chevy Chase Drive.

When tipsy weekend revelers request a ride, Safe Rides volunteers ask for a description of the caller and the pick-up and drop-off locations.

They also ask a series of brief questions used for statistical purposes, such as the name of the passenger's high school, his age and reason for calling Safe Rides. Most callers, said Rogers, are under the influence of alcohol.

The caller is then told to wait for Safe Rides outside the establishment or residence until a two-person, co-ed team arrives. Throughout the evening, the mobile and base teams maintain contact on two portable radios. The radios were purchased with $1,000 in donations from a local church group and three beer distributors.

For 15-year-old volunteer Cara DiMassa, a sophomore at Polytechnic High School, work at Angeles Crest Safe Rides means helping prevent tragedies such as the death three years ago of a close family friend who was hit by a drunk driver.

"It really affected me deeply. She was one of my idols," she said.

Other Safe Rides volunteers, like Tom Rietta and Peter Kuster, both 17-year-old seniors at St. Francis High School in Pasadena, and 15-year-old Angie McEliece, a sophomore at Polytechnic High School, have joined the organization to fulfill a 40-hour community service requirement mandated at their respective high schools.

'Good Cause'

"It's a really good cause," Rietta said. "I know a lot of people who party."

Teen-organized beer parties, known as "kegers," fell under intense scrutiny by local law enforcement officials last year after a 17-year-old La Canada Flintridge student drank too much at such a party and fell to his death from a second-story balcony.

The widely publicized death, coupled with television public service announcements warning against the dangers of drugs and alcohol, have helped educate students, Kuster said.

"More people are realizing how dumb it is to drive drunk," he said.

Nationwide, about 8,000-9,000 youths are killed and 40,000 injured each year in alcohol-related traffic accidents, said Arlene Joye, administrative assistant for the Los Angeles County headquarters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Community Service

Oldfield said he feels lucky that he did not add to the fatality statistics.

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