Journalism Next

Journalism Next | The deadly impact of drinking and driving on Manatee students

MANATEE -- Drunken driving has affected almost everyone at some point in their lives. Manatee High School students are no exception.

DUI accidents are 100 percent preventable, yet driving under the influence continues to be a major issue across Manatee County and the state of Florida.

Every day in America, 28 people die as a result of drunk driving crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In November 2014, two recent Manatee High graduates, as well as another teenager who attended MHS, were killed in an accident authorities say was alcohol related. The driver of the vehicle that caused the crash, turned directly into the path of the teenagers' car, causing a three­-vehicle collision that killed three and injured several others.

"Drunk drivers have taken the lives of five of my friends in almost a years time. It has a lasting toll on my heart. It is a pain that never heals or fully goes away," said Autumn Sprague, 18, a senior at Manatee and best friend of one of the people killed in November.

Driving under the influence affects a person physically, can ruin plans and end careers.

Many high school students have lost scholarship opportunities and positions on sports teams. Former employees have lost their positions at the school due to choices made while under the influence.

For years, teenagers have ignored the warnings about drinking and driving and many paid with their lives. Too many people believe it isn't something that can happen to them, and based on the number of Manatee students who have lost their lives over the years, people still do not realize the dangers.

The list of carnage goes back more than two decades. It includes:

In 1993, three girls from Manatee decided to skip class with an 18-year-old boy who had been drinking. They were involved in an accident. Two girls, ages 14 and 15, were killed. Another student, also 15, was seriously injured.

A Manatee grad was killed in 2005 when his friend, who was drinking and driving, caused an accident. In addition to losing a friend, the driver was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

2006 brought more tragedy when two underage Manatee grads bought alcohol, consumed it and decided to go for a quick drive to pick up a friend. The drive ended in the waters under the Anna Maria Bridge with one life lost and another permanently altered by irreversible brain damage incurred while unconscious under water for 10 minutes.

In 2012, three friends were out driving when another accident occurred, killing the driver and critically injuring another Manatee grad and his friend.

In 2012, a Manatee alum and his wife, her parents and the drunken driver in the other vehicle were all killed when an impaired driver crossed into oncoming traffic on Christmas Eve.

In 2011, the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles recorded 55,722 DUI arrests, including 2,045 in the Tampa Bay area.

In 2012, 697 traffic fatalities were caused by drunken driving in the state.

"Driving while intoxicated or even buzzed is not safe. It killed my best friend. Losing my best friend has affected me greatly and it hurts to lose someone so dear to you. Instead of getting behind the wheel, just call a cab. It would be the smart thing to do," said Morgan Mattison, 16, a junior at Manatee.

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