‘We’re losing too many of our young people’
EAGLE-VAIL – The driver was going impossibly slow, thought Ricardo Beltran, who was a passenger in the sporty convertible. On their way from a birthday party in Eagle to drop off a friend in Gypsum, Beltran started heckling the driver. “I started calling him names,” the teenager said. “I told him to go as fast as possible. I wanted to go fast so I could feel the speed.”The driver complied. Accelerating to 120 miles per hour, the car full of people started rounding a curve but never finished. The car slid off the road and flipped.”Everyone was wearing seatbelts except for me,” Beltran said.Beltran was thrown from the vehicle and landed on his head. For the next month and a half, the teen remained in a coma. Doctors debated whether he would make it, he said.
More than a year later, Beltran told his story to a packed gymnasium at Battle Mountain High School. Beltran, a high school junior, spoke in a monotonous Spanish as classmate Gustavo Bronfield translated.Beltran’s short speech was part of a day-long Remember program meant to encourage teenagers to wear their seatbelts. The day had started with a check of the passengers in every car coming into the high school. Those wearing a seatbelt were given Smarties candies, while those who weren’t were handed a Dum Dum lollipop. A car crumpled in a crash stood in front of the school as a reminder of what can happen on the road.
Later in the morning, students were ushered into the gym for a mandatory assembly. Students filled the bleachers, spilling over to the sit on the gym floor. “This is more than just an informational assembly, this is going to get you to do something,” Principal Brian Hester told the rowdy crowd. The lights went out, and the teenagers hollered collectively until the video started. The young people on tape told their own stories of vehicular idiocy – not wearing their seatbelts, speeding, playing tricks with other cars – and the tragedy that followed: friends dead, vehicles destroyed, injury. The crowd became quiet. The video ended, and high schoolers rapidly rattled off driving statistics to their peers. Then, to bring it home with a bang, Battle Mountain students shared their personal stories about their brushes with death in a car.”God help me, I got away with it, but because of this, I recommend to all you guys to wear your seatbelts and also not to speed,” Beltran said. “The part that hurts me the most is that my mom suffered a lot. I don’t want anyone to go through the same thing as I did.”
The assembly ended and the students stormed out of the gym.”They seem to not take it so seriously, but some will take it to heart,” said Russ Wiechers, a special education teacher.
“It’s probably more than we think,” said Jeff Peak, a health and history teacher. “Telling them about near death experiences, it’s definitely worth it. It’s got to have some impact somewhere.”Most students seemed to agree the assembly was worthwhile. “It opens your mind about how dangerous it can be, to know this stuff always happens,” said Morgan Currie.Others, who declined to be named, said seatbelt education should be left to parents and time at school shouldn’t be devoted to the topic. The handful of parents who attended the assembly said a presentation like this delivers a stronger message then they’re able to alone. “These were real-life situations. You could tell they were listening,” said mother of two Barb Layman, adding teenagers need constant reminders about safe practices because their brains aren’t developed enough to consistently make responsible choices.”They’re not just stupid. They’re brains just aren’t there yet,” she said. At the end of the day, Loretta Shea said it will all be worth it if the program compels just one teen to buckle up. Shea, a member of Eagle County’s Safe Youth Driving Subcommittee, helped coordinate the program.”We’re losing too many of our young people,” she said. “It has to change.”
For more information about Remember, a campaign encouraging teenagers to buckle up, go to http://www.remembercampaign.com. Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vail, Colorado