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Oregon Impact helps change lives


by: PHOTO: ELLEN SPITALERI - Janelle Meredith, executive director of Oregon Impact, and AMR's Georgia Katsirubus.“Our greatest strength is in the stories people tell,” Janelle Meredith told the audience gathered Tuesday, March 19, for the seventh annual Oregon Impact breakfast at the Abernethy Center in Oregon City.

Meredith is executive director of Oregon Impact, a Milwaukie nonprofit organization that provides community education and prevention and awareness activities to stop people from driving intoxicated, impaired or distracted.

Meredith noted that Oregon Impact has extended its original mission in dealing with drivers who are intoxicated, to drivers who are impaired or distracted when they are talking on cell phones or text messaging while driving.

Oregon Impact also sponsors Clackamas County DUII impact panels, bringing speakers to those panels who are willing to tell their stories to drivers who have received DUIIs.

by: PHOTO BY: ELLEN SPITALERI - From left, Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts, Janelle Meredith and Al Herberholz.And now those stories are spreading, Meredith said, because she and Al Herberholz, a contractor with the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Department, created a DVD using speeches from the panels.

“We have sent 300 copies to schools for use in driver education classes, and to 11 other states. Our speakers are going to give drivers a second chance all across the nation,” she said.

Bill Bray described the horrific crash that gave him a “wake-up call” in February of 2010. The first time he received a DUII and attended a mandated impact panel, he said he was told “if you haven’t learned anything tonight, you’ll be back.”

A year later he indeed was back, but he had “a bad attitude. When you are a full-blown alcoholic, you become obstinate. I didn’t listen the second time,” he said.

And then there was the crash.

“I don’t remember this night very well, but I read the police reports. I was going 70 miles an hour down Molalla (Avenue) and I hit a telephone pole. I flat-lined once in the ambulance and once in the emergency room,” Bray said.

He sustained a lengthy list of fractures, was unconscious for a week and on life support for five days.

The first time he came to, the nurse told him medical personnel had not expected him to live; when he asked her what happened, she told him he had been drinking and driving.

He immediately assumed he had killed someone, and said he did not want to go on living if that was the case.

But the nurse told him: “It was just you and the telephone pole, and you lost.”

It was then Bray realized that he had a problem and needed some assistance.

by: PHOTO BY: ELLEN SPITALERI - Bill Bray tells his story.It takes a lot of courage to go up to a stranger and say you need help, he noted, but he is willing to share his story, because it is worth it “if I can save one person from doing what I did, or worse still, from killing someone.”

“I have $125,000 in medical bills and my license is gone until 2020, but I am lucky to be alive.”

Impact panels

Judge Greg Silver, a circuit judge pro tem with the Oregon Judicial Department, has moderated impact panels in Multnomah County since 2007, and in Clackamas County since 2012. He closes every panel hoping attendees can make better decisions about driving impaired, after listening to the stories about one woman’s 29-year-old son who was walking down the street when he was struck by a drunk driver; or the woman who was sitting at a red light and was struck from behind by an impaired driver and now has to live with traumatic brain injury.

“When you go home tonight,” he tells all attendees, “don’t tell people you heard about accidents. Everything you heard tonight could have been prevented if one person had made one different choice.”

Silver also tells the drivers at the panels that if they do cause a major accident, under Measure 11 rules, they can be sentenced to 90 months in prison. If someone dies in the crash, they can be convicted of manslaughter, and serve 120 months in prison.

Public safety

Fred Charlton, Clackamas Fire District No. 1 fire chief, called crashes caused by impaired drivers “preventable tragedies.”

And, he pointed out, the events do not end when the crash sites are cleaned up. “The trauma continues for days, weeks, years. And the first responders are haunted by the lasting images for what could be prevented,” Charlton said.

He asked three of his veteran firefighters why these crashes are more traumatic than other road accidents.

One 20-year veteran said they cause more pain and heartache than other accidents, and alter too may lives; another said these are life-changing events for intoxicated drivers and innocent victims; and the third, a 30-year veteran, said he deplored the self-centered attitude of an impaired driver who gets into a 3,000-pound vehicle.

“Our responsibility is to continue to advocate for change,” Charlton said. “We must take a role in reducing the number of impaired or distracted drivers, and that is why Oregon Impact is such an exceptional partner.”

Comic book bid

Meredith was surprised when four representatives from State Farm came to the podium and presented Oregon Impact with a check for $15,750.

Meredith also expressed gratitude to Mark Burnham and American Medical Response for giving Oregon Impact a home in their office.

“AMR is giving us a retired ambulance that we will convert convert into an interactive ‘brainbox’ so kids can see what happens when they multitask while driving,” Meredith said.

And finally, Oregon Impact, working with the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, is going to produce a comic book about distracted driving, to be distributed to area students. It’s the second comic in the series, starring police dogs Mik and Nero.

Meredith told the audience at the breakfast that now was the time to bid on the chance to be “drawn into” the comic, playing the role of a distracted driver’s mom or dad.

The winning bid of $225 was by AMR’s Georgia Katsirubas, who noted that several employees joined forces for the bid, and would choose one of their own to be drawn into the comic.by: PHOTO BY: ELLEN SPITALERI - Janelle Meredith, executive director of Oregon Impact, Meredith accepts a check from State Farm Insurance.