Simple sign…powerful message

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 21, 2007

AHOSKIE – The sign is simple, but the message is powerful.

Roanoke-Chowan area motorists who use US 13 North on a regular basis perhaps have already noticed a new sign located at the highway’s intersection with Short Cut Road.

There, in large, black letters are the words, Is It Worth Losing A Loved One? Don’t Drink And Drive. Adjacent to the lettering is a photo of Ron-Gina Wilder, a popular Hertford County High School student-athlete with a bright future who was tragically killed by a drunk driver in April of 2005.

The sign and the powerful message is the brainchild of Brittany Morris, another HCHS student. Morris, age 17, is using the sign as her senior project.

“I decided to do this with the hope of reminding people of what a great person Ron-Gina was and that her life was cut way too short by someone who chose to drink and drive,” Morris said. “It’s also my hope that the sign will send a message to those using our roads not to drink and drive, especially during the holidays.”

Morris noted that alcohol-related deaths in motor vehicle accidents seem to increase during Christmas and New Year’s.

“I’m hoping to keep the sign up through Christmas and New Year’s as a reminder to people about the consequences of drinking alcohol and then choosing to drive,” she said.

Morris’ project impressed First Sgt. K.P. Pitts of the Ahoskie office of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.

“It’s a very powerful message and one we all need to heed, especially during the holiday period,” Pitts said.

First Sgt. Pitts, a Highway Patrol veteran, said he has seen way too many fatal accidents involving alcohol.

“It’s a traumatic experience to lose a loved one in a vehicle accident, but upon knowing that the life lost was caused by someone who chose to drink and drive makes it even a tougher pill to swallow,” he said. “If that fatal accident occurs during a holiday as special as Christmas or New Year’s, then it becomes even more traumatic for those loved ones left behind. It puts a damper on all the Christmas holidays that follow.”

Like Morris, First Sgt. Pitts had a simple, but powerful message of his own.

“We all know that holiday parties often include alcohol consumption,” he noted. “What the Highway Patrol asks for is very simple, if you’ve had too much to drink, please do the right thing and don’t operate a motor vehicle. And if a friend or family member notices someone who has consumed too much alcohol, you can do the right thing and take the keys from that person and either offer them a ride home or a place to sleep overnight.”

Morris also knows that alcohol is available at parties.

“I’ve been to parties where alcohol was consumed,” she said. “We’ve taken car keys from some of those who have had too much to drink. I’ve also been a DD (Designated Driver) for friends and family members who have chosen to drink alcohol, but at least know better not to drive.”

Morris added that many people simply do not understand the responsibility that comes with operating a motor vehicle on a public road.

“People need to be responsible for their actions when driving a car, even if they are sober,” Morris stressed.

Morris said she still remembers the day Ron-Gina Wilder was killed on Memorial Drive in Ahoskie.

“I still miss her today,” said Morris who played softball with Wilder at HCHS. “She was a great friend to everyone.”

Morris added that she contacted the Wilder family for permission to use Ron-Gina’s photo on the sign. She also thanked Good News Auto of Powellsville who donated the use of a wrecked car to place adjacent to the sign.

“I think the wrecked car gave the sign a bit more realism,” Morris said.

As for her future, Morris says she plans to attend Western Carolina University and major in forensic science. If that doesn’t pan out, she said she’ll consider nursing school.

“I want to help people, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” Morris concluded.

Whether she realizes it or not, she has perhaps already helped someone with the message on the sign. Hopefully, a passing motorist who originally planned on a big holiday party will think twice about climbing behind the wheel after having too much to drink.