By Joe Beck
FRONT ROYAL -- Students from Warren County and Skyline high schools took a few moments after school Wednesday to mark the toll that drunken driving takes on Warren County's roads and communities.
They did so in an unlikely way, planting 18 red tulip bulbs in front of Skyline High School, one for each of the vehicle occupants injured in drunken driving-related accidents in 2011.
The somber mood was tempered by a bit of good news for the 30 or so students participating in the event. At the same event last year, three of the bulbs were for white tulips, signifying the same number of deaths from drunken driving in the previous year of 2010. No white bulbs were needed this year, as there were no alcohol-related vehicle deaths in 2011. The number of injuries also was the lowest in eight years.
The Warren Coalition, an organization with the mission of discouraging drug and alcohol usage and other risky behavior among the county's youths, organized the event. The participating students were members of Youth in Action, an anti-alcohol, anti-drug student organization sponsored by the coalition.
Christa D. Shifflett, the coalition's executive director, said she got the idea for a bulb planting from a Pennsylvania woman who suffered serious injuries from a drunken driver as she was crossing a street. Shifflett said she attended a talk the woman gave in which she mentioned her experience and suggested planting tulip bulbs as a way of raising awareness about the toll of drunken driving in a community.
Shifflett said this year's turnout of 30 students was the highest she has seen in three years of bulb plantings.
"It gives you hope the message is getting out to young people," Shifflett said.
Courtney Pullen, 18, of Warren County High School, said she had ridden in a vehicle with a classmate who had been drinking and came away from the experience as a bundle of raw nerves.
"You get to thinking, every turn they make, every stoplight they hit, when is there going be one where they don't make it?" she said.
Faith Gaile, 17, a classmate from Warren County High School and a fellow member of Youth in Action, said she hopes the group's anti-drug, anti-alcohol message was sinking in among other students.
"I'm sure some people will have listened to me, which is really cool, so they'll transmit it from me and spread the word," Gaile said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org