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MADD features local victim

While the coming days will bring much to celebrate as area students graduate from high school, it is a time to also have concern.

That concern is about whether area teens will make wise decisions about alcohol and the way they choose to celebrate this milestone.

A local mother, whose daughter is one of those graduates, understand the heartache that can be caused by mixing drinking and driving.

Her twin sister, Glenda Phelps died as a result of an accident with a drunk driver.

Brenda Owens, whose own daughter will graduate this week, said she will never forget learning that her twin sister was dead.

She wants others to know that such things can happen locally.

Owens said she will never forget learning the news that her twin sister was dead and she wants others to know that such things can happen here.

She recently received new Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) fliers that include a picture of Phelps along with 23 other individuals who died in alcohol related crashes.

Phelps died at 12:35 a.m. on Sept. 30, 2000 as she and her husband Wendell, and their son, TJ were returning from a Greenville Academy football game.

They were hit head-on by Patrick Ward, who was subsequently sentenced to 15 years in prison for vehicular manslaughter.

&uot;He stayed in prison for less than a year,&uot; Owens said.

&uot;That just isn’t right.

I remember seeing him asleep on a stretcher after seeing Glenda in the ER.

I was about to explode.&uot;

She said during his trial, she did feel some sorrow for him.

&uot;For just a moment while he was on the witness stand, I felt sorry for him,&uot; she said.

&uot;He was young and he screwed up.

But he also took a life because of his actions.&uot;

She said when he was eventually released and her family learned of it, they went back to court.

&uot;When we went back to court, he got on the stand and said that it was too far for his family to drive to visit him in Clio and he wanted to return to the jail in Luverne,&uot; she said.

&uot;What about my family?

We don’t get an opportunity to make our visits to Glenda easier. But of course, now he is out free.&uot;

Owens said she wants parents to remember her sister when they know their children are out celebrating after graduation.

&uot;People need to realize that it can happen to anyone,&uot; she said.

&uot;You see it on TV, in movies and you read about it and you shrug it off.

Then you get that call in the middle of the night and you are told there has been an accident.

Then you are told that your loved one is dead.&uot;

Many teens will call their behavior a &uot;rite of passage,&uot; but graduation is the rite of passage, Owens said, not drinking and driving.

A recent online survey by MADD and the Chrysler Group found some stunning statistics. The online survey of 609 16 to 18-year-olds was conducted April 5 to May 3, 2005 by Chrysler Group and MADD to educate teens about the risks they face as new, inexperienced drivers as graduation season approaches.

First, of those surveyed 45 percent reported they feel pressured by peers to drink and drive or ride with someone who has been drinking. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than half of all fatal traffic crashes on graduation weekends involve alcohol.

&uot;The 21 drinking age is based on scientific research,&uot; said Wendy Hamilton, MADD national president.

&uot;We know that the earlier teens drink, the more likely they are to become alcohol dependent and to drive drunk. More than ever, during prom and graduation season, parents need to be vigilant, and insist that their teens never drink alcohol before 21 and that they not ride in a car with friends who have been drinking.&uot;

The survey also found that 46 percent plan to drive to graduation night activities, of that number, 53 percent plan to drive a group of their friends to these parties. Hamilton said it is important to remember that multiple teen passengers increase a teen’s crash risk. Research shows those teen drivers ages 16 and 17 driving with even one teen passenger are 50 percent more likely to be involved in a crash than when driving alone. The risk more than doubles with two teen passengers in the vehicle, with three or more teen passengers, it’s three to five times more likely that teens will be involved in a crash than if they were driving alone. The increased risk is primarily due to driver distractions.

Even more dangerous is that 86 percent of those surveyed by MADD showed the teens would stay out later than midnight and half of that number said they would be out as late at 2 a.m.

Owens said she just wants people to think about what could happen when alcohol is involved with driving a vehicle.

&uot;I don’t want anyone to have to go through this,&uot; she said.

As for Phelps now being one of those who MADD is using to get its message across, Owens said her sister would be honored by it.

&uot;I think that she would be honored to know that if knowing her story prevents one person from dying or one family from going through this, that her death was part of a cause,&uot; she said.

&uot;She wouldn’t have it any other way.&uot;

Graduation Driving Safety Tips

To help keep teens safe during prom and graduation season, Chrysler Group and MADD offer the following safety tips for parents:

* Remember that the legal drinking age is 21. Insist that your teen never drink alcohol before 21 or use other drugs, or ride in a car with friends who are under the influence.

* Require your teen and all passengers to always buckle up.

* Limit the number of passengers with whom your teen drives.

* Remind teens to take extra care when driving at night: most teen crashes occur after dark.

* Insist that your teen obey all the rules of the road, including never speeding.