- Associated Press - Saturday, May 10, 2014

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) - Ryan Axe flashes a few pictures of his family on the big screen in front of his students.

“Now, all of you have seen my family more than my brother ever did, and my brother was my best friend,” he says.

It’s a chilling moment as students realize that Axe - principal at Warwick High School - is talking about a young man killed by one poor driving decision.

“He was in an accident in 1997,” Axe explains in a telephone interview. “He and his fiancee were out at a couple of places, and on the way home they were in an accident. They both passed away.”

Axe pauses.

“He was not a heavy drinker or anything like that,” he says. “He wasn’t even behind the wheel at the time. But he did make the choice to get in that car.”

Axe’s brother was only 23 - just a few years out of school - when he died. At this time of year, Axe and other school officials want to make sure students realize that one bad decision can have life-altering effects.

“It’s a sad truth,” says Mike Simpson, a teacher at Lancaster Country Day School. “But there’s a prom-to-graduation corridor … when hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of kids across this country are going to get into terrible, terrible car accidents, and they’re going to suffer pretty serious physical consequences.”

Students on prom night might be excited. Distracted by their date. Eager to text a friend to tell them how things went. Or maybe they stopped at a post-prom party and had too much to drink.

None of that combines well with driving.

According to the Department of Transportation, more than 5,000 teens are injured or killed nationwide during a typical prom weekend. While most of the accidents are alcohol related, teens who aren’t drinking are still at risk if they’re on the road.

Simpson, too, has a personal story to share with students.

It was five or six years ago, he says, and he and his wife were driving home from a dinner party in separate cars.

“A 16-year-old kid who had been drinking and who had marijuana paraphenalia in the car … got confused at the intersection and plowed into my wife,” Simpson says. “His car was totaled, my wife’s car was totaled. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt.

“But there was about a 15-second period of time when I had no idea what I would find while I ran to my wife’s car.”

Story Continues →