USS Harry S. Truman Gets The Ugly Truth About Drunk Driving

Story Number: NNS091211-24Release Date: 12/11/2009 9:00:00 PM
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By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Jessica Ellington, USS Harry S. Truman Public Affairs

NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- Virginia Beach police officers briefed the crew of USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) Dec. 4-6 about drunk driving in the Hampton Roads area.

The presentation outlined the laws and regulations on drunk driving in Virginia, as well as the legal penalties if caught.

The brief also showed the fate of those who were not lucky enough to be pulled over by the police. Instead, the drunk driving resulted in motor vehicle accidents, most of which ended in fatalities.

"We mix the presentation," said Sgt. Scott Wichtendahl, supervisor of Virginia Beach traffic safety. "As well as having the graphic photos, you also get the stats and figures. I feel like this really drives the point home. You can see the statistics and the figures, but that's nothing compared to seeing the actual carnage of the crash."

NCIS Special Agent Courtney Giese, who is assigned to Truman, coordinated the visit. The Virginia Beach Police Department has used this presentation in the area for approximately nine years and the information has been continuously updated and revised. This was the first time the presentation has been shown aboard Truman.

"I think hearing the stories of the people who have seen it first-hand, the police officers that respond to the scene, then us seeing that reality through photography really helps to drive the point home," said Giese.

"My friend was hit by a drunk driver," said Seaman Jordan Aebi, Deck department. "It was getting dark and he was just heading home when, out of nowhere, this guy hit him. He had to go to the hospital and after the accident he couldn't walk again. Seeing the actual pictures and hearing the stories, I think it makes it sink in more. Drunk driving affects more than just your bank account. There are victims and it affects everyone."

Wichtendahl said that seeing the victimization that comes from drunk driving accidents is one of the most important issues to him.

"It makes a victim of everyone from the officer who has to stop and see a dead body, the civilians that drive by to the children waiting at home," said Wichtendahl.

According to Wichtendahl, one of the last photographs in the slide show was that of a drunken car crash by a Norfolk Sailor stationed aboard an aircraft carrier. The photo showed the Sailor to be dead, having been flung out of the vehicle and smashed against a cement wall. The body, missing a large part of its head, fell below the office window of a worker on the bridge. The worker, seeing the mangled corpse, suffered a heart attack shortly after the accident.

"To me, seeing the photos and that not affecting someone, there would have to be no human empathy there," said Giese. "They would need to step back and figure out what the value of human life means to them."

"My friend got paralyzed and that affected me," said Aebi. "If I went out, hit someone and affected their family because I was drinking, I couldn't handle that. I've seen the consequences."

"Everyone is valued on board Truman," said Giese. "If every Sailor and every Sailor's family wasn't important, we wouldn't have had these police officers come on board. We wouldn't spend so much time and energy on educating our Sailors, providing alternatives, and enacting such rigid punishments when they've broken the law."

Sailors aboard Truman have multiple options if they find themselves intoxicated without a safe way to get home. Hell's Angels, the brain child of Truman's Second Class Petty Officers Association, will pick the Sailor up from wherever they have been drinking and give the individual a ride home or back to the ship at no cost.
The Safe Ride Program, an agreement Truman has worked out with local cab drivers, enables Truman Sailors to call one of the numbers on their Safe Ride card and take a taxi home. The taxi service will bill them at a later date.

If Sailors are worried their car will be towed, Virginia Beach has a special "No Tow" program available in municipal parking lots. Police officers and lot attendants provide stickers ensuring the car will be left un-towed until the next day.

With the numerous options and alternatives available to combat drunken driving, the decision ultimately rests on the Sailors themselves to consider the consequences of driving while intoxicated. By exercising good judgment and heeding the advice contained in the police officers' brief, each and every crew member on board Truman can contribute to making sensible driving decisions that avoid the involvement of alcohol.

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