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The Sober Squad : Nonprofit Group Drives Home Point of Not Driving Drunk

March 15, 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."

Nose Bloodied

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.

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

Today, Oldfield is among more than 70 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 parts of west Pasadena and Eagle Rock and from any location in Glendale, La Canada Flintridge, Sunland and Tujunga.

Known officially as Angeles Crest Safe Rides Explorers Post 2207, the nonprofit organization is affiliated with Boy Scouts of America. It is one of more than a dozen Safe Rides chapters scattered throughout communities in Los Angeles County, including Altadena, San Gabriel and Walnut.

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

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

Three other Safe Rides groups operate in the San Gabriel Valley. All operate on Friday and Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.

The San Gabriel chapter, which can be reached by calling (818) 307-RIDE, has been offering rides to students from Monterey Park, Montebello, Alhambra, San Gabriel and Rosemead for two years. Last year, members of that group, which has 10 adult and 30 student volunteers who work out of a church in Monterey Park, served 1,000 students, said Mancha Kurilich, who was instrumental in setting up the Safe Rides program in the San Gabriel Valley.

The Altadena-based San Gabriel Foothill chapter, at (818) 798-4853, has been operating for a year and has given rides to about 500 students from Altadena, Pasadena, South Pasadena, San Marino and Sierra Madre. The Foothill chapter has 10 adult and 38 student volunteers.

Farther east, students from Walnut and Diamond Bar can call (714) 598-5433 and get rides from the Walnut Valley Safe Rides organization, which has been operating for nine months. Twenty adults and 35 students are active in that group, which operates out of a church in Walnut.

According to Rogers, some critics have said the Angeles Crest group condones teen-age drinking. But Rogers argued that "if (critics) were being realistic, they would have to understand that (teen-age drinking) does happen."

"Realistically (alcohol) is available to (teen-agers)," agreed Crescenta Valley sheriff's Sgt. Santo Marino. He said the Safe Rides 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 meets 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 his 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, 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, her work at Angeles Crest Safe Rides means helping to 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," DiMassa said of the victim.

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