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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Jun 05, 2017

A Dozen Years of Project Prom Presented to Keep RBR Teenagers Safe

For a dozen years, Red Bank Regional High School (RBR) has been conducting the Project Prom program for seniors with the intention of keeping them safe during the most dangerous time of the year for teenage car crashes.  Little Silver Police Sergeant Pete Gibson started the program in 2005 with the participation of the RBR sending districts emergency service personnel. This year, the program began on May 25 despite a continual rain, which mimicked especially dangerous time to be driving distracted or under the influence. RBR teacher Scott Ferris and seniorsWilliam Sheehan, Red Bank, Frank Taddeo, Union Beach and Carly Keller, Union Beach, portrayed the crash victims.

RBR’s School Resource Officer Robert Chenoweth now coordinates the program with the assistance of RBR Student Assistance Counselor Lori Tood.

Rob Chenoweth reflects on this year’s program as those in the past stating, “Every prom season across the nation, students are killed in traffic accidents that are alcohol or drug related. The goal of this program is to educate students on how the effects of alcohol will impair your ability to function, particularly, operating a motor vehicle, and, to make the right decision not to drive if they, or someone else is impaired. We conduct this program every year around this time, to re-enforce the importance, to make the right decisions so not to become part of the national statistics.”

In addition to the mock crash, an assembly is conducted with guest speakers Mitch Ansell, a county defense attorney, John Day Funeral Director Jerry Tilton and Molly Berkowitz, Trauma Injury Prevention Coordinator from Jersey Shore University Medical Center. From May 30 through June 2 (the day of RBR’s prom) project prom activities continued with Sergeant Gibson presenting an “Alive at 25” program during physical education classes. Local police departments, including Bradley Beach, Union Beach Police Middletown Township, participated by assisting students with simulated distracted or drunk driving exercises by utilizing fatal vision goggles as students tried to navigate an obstacle course while driving golf carts outside the RBR field house.

 Following the mock crash, John Day Funeral Director Jerry Tilton explained the grim responsibilities of his job and the devastation to the families left behind from a teenager’s poor decision to drive under the influence. He always ends his soliloquytelling the audience of seniors, “I don’t want your business; I don’t need your business!”

Mitch Ansell described the law and its consequences including that underage drinkers are breaking the law even if they have just one beer.

He explained, “You still have to hire an attorney, lose your license for six months, and end up with a criminal record… Try getting into college or getting a job then!”

He added that if the incident results in a death, teenagers are charged with vehicular homicide which carries a minimum sentence of 5 years in jail, of which New Jersey law requires that 85% of the sentence be served.  He detailed the definition of “constructive possession” where you are charged with possession even if the contraband does not belong to you but was found near you or in your car.

He, however, best described the fallout from such poor decisions by example of his clients.  One young man, from Middletown is currently serving the end of his senior year in prison for killing his best friend in a drunk-driving crash; “He will live with that guilt, according to Mr. Ansell, “for the rest of his life.”  Another young lady is awaiting an investigation for distracted driving in the vehicular death of a CBA priest.  He then introduced Shannon Frain, one of his clients, who agreed to tell his story in person in an attempt to give back in order to make a horrible situation better.

Shannon Frain was able to get a deal for drug possession that landed him in a rehab facility the year he was to go to his prom and graduate high school.  He was still convicted of second degree felony charges, accrued a $75,000 legal bill and virtually lost his freedom.

He told the students, “In my head I really didn’t think I did anything wrong because I thought drugs should be legal.  Even when I was in school and we had prisoner’s presenting their stories, I thought, ‘This is stupid! I am smarter than them.’…But consequences only set in when it is all done.”