- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) — Groups across Virginia are reaching out to Hispanics about the dangers of drinking and driving.

While data on alcohol-related fatalities broken down by ethnicity is not widely available, those who work closely with the issue say it is worth the effort to reach out to the Hispanic community.

“From anecdotal data, we know that there are problems pretty much in every community with alcohol, but certainly in the Hispanic community,” said Chris Konschak, executive director for the Virginia and District Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Mr. Konschak said the group is trying to reach out to all groups.

“Our work over the years has not been visible in non-white communities,” he said. “We’re hoping that we can make people more aware of our mission of stopping drunk driving and stopping underage drinking.”

The group held a workshop just before the holidays at an apartment building in Richmond.

M. “Abby” Amalbert-Seoane held up an article about Alfredo Ramos, an illegal alien who in November was sentenced to 24 years in prison for being drunk when he slammed into a car in Virginia Beach, killing two teenage girls.

“We don’t want this to happen to you,” she said in Spanish to a room of about 50 Hispanics.

“I’m not here to tell you, ‘Don’t drink,’ ” said Miss Amalbert-Seoane, a staff member of the Richmond area MADD. “I’m here to tell you, ‘Don’t drink and drive.’ ”

She distributed brochures in Spanish and Virginia’s laws on drunken driving and other information on alcohol consumption.

Other groups have begun similar efforts.

The Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is trying to raise $10,000 to produce a video in partnership with the state police about avoiding drinking and driving and reducing crashes.

“We want to prevent these tragedies,” said chamber President Michel Zajur. “Don’t drink and drive. We have to communicate that over and over again.”

The Virginia Alcohol Safety Action program that serves Richmond and Goochland and Hanover counties has had a class for Spanish speakers for six years. Motorists convicted of driving under the influence can be ordered by the court to attend the class.

John Tyler Community College also started an alcohol-safety program in Spanish at about the same time.

“Spanish-speaking clients don’t have to bring a translator for the class,” said Executive Director Maureen Earley. “They don’t have to struggle through the English classes.”

Miguel Mendoza, a plumber from Mexico, attended the MADD class. Mr. Mendoza said he learned the consequences of drinking and driving when he was charged with DUI about four years ago.

“You can’t be drinking and driving,” he said. “If someone explains to you what kind of problems we can have if we drink and drive, it helps.”

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