Chris Sandy spent eight-and-a-half years in prison on two counts of vehicular homicide after drinking, driving and slamming his car into another vehicle.
Sandy has spent the past week telling students from Murray and Whitfield County high schools how the decision to drink and drive shattered his life, that of his friend in the car with him, and those of the family of the elderly couple in the car he hit. He spoke of the guilt he still carries and the harshness of prison life.
“Take everything you’ve heard about prison and multiply it by 10, and that’s what it’s really like,” Sandy said Thursday to a group of students from Southeast Whitfield High School.
Even before he left prison, Sandy began speaking to youth groups, hoping to help them avoid making the mistake he had made.
Sandy’s appearances at the North Georgia Fairgrounds this week are part of “Teen Maze,” a community-backed effort organized by Whitfield Family Connection that aims to help teens avoid choices that can harm them and the ones around them. Suzanne Harbin, coordinator of Whitfield Family Connection, said that by the time the program concludes today more than 2,300 10th-graders will have gone through the maze.
“We decided to focus on 10th-graders because they are still learning to drive or just starting to drive. They are probably going to be spending more time away from their parents than they have before and making more decisions on their own,” she said.
After listening to Sandy’s presentation, the students briefly attended a mock party, then split up into several groups. For some the next stop was a DUI demonstration where they donned goggles that mimic the affects of intoxication. They attempted to perform a field sobriety test, finding out just how difficult it can be just to walk a straight line while under the influence, then tried to drive a golf cart though a path bordered by traffic cones. Few completed the drive without knocking over several cones.
Dalton Police Sgt. Shaun Scott said the DUI test has proven to be an eye-opener for the students.
“Many of them have said that if this is so difficult that trying to operate a car when they are under the influence would be even harder,” he said. “A lot of them have said they won’t try to do that.”
Scott said the Dalton Police Department regularly brings the DUI simulation to local students but Teen Maze “helps put the whole picture together.”
After trying the DUI simulation, students witnessed a mock crash, complete with mangled bodies, and firefighters and emergency medical technicians trying to extricate the victims.
They then followed a survivor of the wreck to an “emergency room” staffed by people who actually work in Hamilton Medical Center’s emergency room.
“This is something we deal with all the time,” said Lynn Cotellese, an emergency room registered nurse. “I’ve been dealing with this for a long time, and it never goes away. You remember almost everyone. You may not remember the names, but you remember the cries of the family. You remember when it happened and what sort of injuries they had.”
Cotellese said that if Teen Maze helps keep even one person out of the emergency room it will have been successful.
Rebecca Hernandez, a student at North Murray High School, said she believes the program will keep teens from drinking and driving.
“I was really impressed with the speaker and what he had to say about how it had affected his life and how he was trying to move on but could never really escape what he had done,” she said.
In addition to learning about drinking and driving, students went through demonstrations on teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases as well as what it is like to go through the juvenile justice system.