Automobile crashes are the number one killer of America’s teens. According to a 2010 AAA analysis of crash data by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), statistics show that the danger is greatest in summer, with seven of the top 10 deadliest driving days occurring between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Now that school is out, many teens will be spending more time behind the wheel for work, and safety may not always be at the forefront of their minds. That’s why Elk & Elk and Portage County Safe Communities teamed up to share a special program with teens in an effort to reduce teenage fatalities in Portage County. “The goal is to reduce teenage fatalities, especially during prom and graduation season,” said Lynette Blasiman, Director of Portage County Safe Communities.

So, for the 13th consecutive year, nearly 2,000 high school seniors from county high schools were invited to participate in the None for Under 21 program. This year, at Hiram College’s Martin Fieldhouse, students debarked from their busses, immediately filing past the smoke and wreckage of an active mock scene, on their way to the program. The scene outside simulated a head-on crash, with actors serving as drivers and passengers, as real-life first responders from Hiram, Aurora, Mantua, and the State Highway Patrol tended to the injured, and secured the scene. Underlining this somber tone, Hiram College President Dr. Lori Varlotta remarked, “Today’s program focuses on a very sobering topic.” She went on to share that life-altering consequences can can result when teens choose to drink and drive, or simply to ride with someone who is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.

Throughout the morning, students listened attentively as Mark Streem, a parent from Rootstown, shared his story of the loss of his 14-year-old son in a motor vehicle accident. Ryan, an avid musician and soccer player, lost his life when the friend who was driving lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a tree. Mark implored students, “ Every day, you’re faced with decisions and choices. And every decision has profound effects for everyone around you.”

Offering another side to consider, inmate Christina Reed shared her story with students. Dressed in her orange prison-issued uniform, she shared in detail, the downward spiral that led to her incarceration for killing a 15-year-old girl while driving under the influence. “Words cannot express my regret to her loved ones who have suffered,” she acknowledged. “I know that my loved ones have also suffered.  And no one is to blame but me.”

Lastly, Aaron Cooksey shared how a series of poor decisions made after receiving a sports-career-ending injury led him down a path of destruction that caused the death of his best friend. After spending four years in prison and having his drivers’ license suspended for life, he shares the details of his tragedy with the hope of saving others. “The attorneys of Elk & Elk are proud to support None for Under 21 because we know making good decisions can save lives,” said Arthur Elk, Managing Partner at Elk & Elk.

Robinson Hospital announced the winner of the poster contest, awarding Windham High School $750 for an alcohol-free prom or graduation activity. Twenty-two schools participated in the program this year, making it the largest yet. For more information, contact Portage County Safe Communities at (330) 297-7027.