Originally created 12/26/96

One too many



For folks in Wagener the early December collision of a school bus and a car loaded with children is a vivid reminder of how dangerous alcohol can be.

"If they could take pictures of those two babies and publish them in the damn paper, wouldn't anybody drink and drive again," said Cynthia Nance, who saw the mangled bodies of two of the children killed in the Dec. 6 collision.

All five of the car's occupants - a 41-year-old woman and four children - died in the collision with the nearly-empty school bus. Police say the driver's blood contained twice the legal limit of alcohol.

With alcohol flowing freely at holiday parties, law enforcement officials and others fear that such alcohol-related accidents will be all too common between now and the New Year.

"It's a very dangerous time of the year," said Sheryl Powell, Georgia executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). "There are a lot of people out there who don't normally drink during the rest of the year who are getting drunk and driving."

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 17,300 Americans died in alcohol-related automobile accidents last year, with the peak number of deaths happening during the stretch just before Christmas through New Year's Day.

The Georgia State Patrol is predicting almost 800 New Year's accidents statewide, with about half of them alcohol-related. Nine people will die and 318 people will be injured, patrol officials predict.

"We are always out in force to try to catch anyone who has been drinking, but we can't be everywhere. Our goal has been to educate the public about how dangerous drinking and driving is," said Pam Short, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Public Safety.

The message appears to be getting out, MADD and state officials say. Drunken-driving arrests and accidents have dropped during the past few years.

"But still there is a person killed every 32 minutes because of a drunk driver. That's still too many," Ms. Powell said.

Ms. Powell said there are several steps ordinary citizens can take to prevent some alcohol-related accidents:

  • Serve less alcohol at parties. Cut guests off after a couple of drinks and insist they stay long enough for the alcohol to metabolize from their system (about one hour for each 16-ounce beer).
  • Invite guests to spend the night.
  • Call four or five friends and volunteer to be their designated driver.
  • If you see a car weaving or its driver behaving suspiciously, get the license number and description of the car and call the state patrol or other local law enforcement agencies (*GSP on a cellular phone).
  • Evil spirits

    Alcohol can kill even if you're not steering a ton of plastic, steel and rubber down Interstate 20. Dr. Robert Schade, chief of gastroenterology at the Medical College of Georgia, says medical science has identified several harmful, short-term and long-term effects of alcohol:

  • A night of heavy drinking can end in death in several ways, including direct alcohol poisoning. Indirectly, a drunk person can choke to death on his vomit, or his tongue muscles can relax to the point that it blocks his airway, suffocating him.
  • Alcohol taken with acetaminophen - commonly known by the brand name Tylenol - can be deadly.
  • Alcohol can ulcerate the stomach by eating away at its protective lining, causing pain and malnutrition.
  • Alcohol causes diarrhea, resulting in the loss of essential minerals, especially magnesium.
  • Smokers who drink regularly are 20 times more likely than nondrinking smokers to get mouth and throats cancers.
  • Alcohol impairs night vision.
  • Alcohol is the leading cause of liver damage in the United States.