COVINGTON - A group of individuals affected by drunk driving hopes to influence a lot of kids in Newton and Rockdale counties this week.
Oxford resident Wendy Williams, whose father was killed by a drunk driver in 2002, spoke to students at Alcovy and Salem high schools Tuesday at school assemblies and also will speak at other events throughout the week along with the very driver who caused the deadly accident, Eric Elsey.
Williams encouraged students not to drink or use illegal substances and especially not to ever drive while under the influence.
"Some of you are doing that ... on the weekends, you are partying and carrying on," she said to a group of Alcovy High School juniors Tuesday morning during the first assembly. "You could be like my dad or could be in the position Eric was several years ago."
Elsey told the group they don't have to drink to "fit in."
"I wanted to be part of the crowd, and I thought having a good time meant drinking," said 24-year-old Elsey, who caused a car accident that killed Williams' father Joseph Giddens in 2002 after a night of drinking with friends. "I stand here before you today because I don't want anyone in the room to experience taking a life."
He told students to ask themselves if their so-called friends who want them to drink or drink and drive are actually good people.
"If the guys I went to the concert with that night cared about me, they wouldn't have let me drink and drive," he said. "I was on the wrong road, and now I view life differently."
He said his life is not easy now after being convicted of DUI and reckless homicide - he can't vote, find an apartment or do many other simple things in life most people take for granted.
"All (drinking and driving) did was make me part of a crowd that I didn't want to be part of - drunk drivers," he said. "I hope none of you have to experience that."
Motivational speaker Dan Moran, also part of the school assembly, said Elsey had a lot of courage to speak to a group about his conviction. Then Moran told a story of his friend who also wanted to be part of a "cool" crowd and chose to drink and drive.
Even though the friend hadn't had much to drink over the legal limit, the weather was rainy and he caused a car crash that killed an elderly couple, Moran said.
He eventually was arrested and at the trial, he had several individuals speak to his good character. At the end, a woman stood up to reveal she was the deceased couple's daughter.
"I'm not a vicious person, but that was my mom; that was my dad; and that was my kids' grandparents," Moran recalls she said to the judge. "I wish justice to be served here today."
He was sentenced to two three-year sentences in the state prison system.
Moran then revealed that the friend he had been talking about was himself.
"I still see the blood stains; I still see the crash site," he said. "I will forever live with that night because I made the wrong choice."
After his jail time, Moran said he made a promise to speak to as many teenagers as he could in order to help prevent events like that from happening to them.
"I ask you to make the right choice," he said to the group. "Will you choose life - life without pills, without pot, without alcohol? The choice is yours."
Then the students were escorted outside to see Giddens' wrecked Delta 88 Oldsmobile car - with a crumpled roof, busted windshield and torn apart inside and out - that was wrapped around a tree during the accident.
The group will speak again today and Thursday at schools in Rockdale County and again at an event called Collision, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at First Baptist Church of Conyers, located at 2100 Ga. Highway 138 in Conyers.
Michelle Floyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.