When Jennifer Fleming died after a car crash early on New Year's Day 1988, it changed the way Los Alamos looked at alcohol.
"It's totally just not cool to drink and drive anymore," said Los Alamos County youth coordinator Peggy Vigil. Students "see those who drink and drive as the enemy. They saw public outrage, perhaps you could say community anger."Jennifer, 16, a Los Alamos High School junior, was fatally injured while driving around to help sober up a friend who'd been drinking. Jennifer had spent the evening at an alcohol-free dance she'd helped organize.
"I didn't want to go home at the time because I was afraid my parents would find out," said Laura Root, who was with Jennifer and two friends when a pickup swerved to avoid a stopped car and crushed Jennifer's car.
"Before the accident, I was on a crash course," Laura said. "I was doing things. I was lying to my parents. I was totally out of control. I guess for me it took one of my best friends dying to realize I couldn't live that way any more. It wasn't worth it. It just wasn't worth it."
She lost 12 teeth, suffered a bruised spinal cord and a crushed knee that had metal from the wreckage embedded in it. "They're still reconstructing my mouth. Sometime this summer they should be done."
Jeff Bussolini permanently lost all but peripheral vision in his left eye and suffered a fractured hip, arm and 20 to 30 fractures in his face.
Stephanie Van Dyck had fractures of the foot, arm, ribs, hand and face and a punctured lung. She still feels pain more than a year later.
After they got out of the hospital, Jeff, Stephanie and Laura helped found a chapter of Students Against Driving Drunk. The 20-member chapter held an alcohol-free St. Patrick's Day dance this year.
Vigil said she has seen a change in "how the kids perceive and treat their peers who drink and drive." There has been a 42 percent decrease in arrests for driving while intoxicated since 1986, she said.
The biggest decline came after the crash, said Police Chief Alan Kirk. "The last year in Los Alamos there's been a tremendous publicity campaign by various organizations in the community to bring attention to the drunk driving problem. The County Council passed several laws the past year which also deal with drunk driving violations."
These include extending a ban on open beverage containers to the passenger, not just the driver; a mandatory 30 days in jail for third-time offenders; 15 days for driving on a DWI-revoked license; and two days if breath alcohol is 0.15 percent or higher. The legal limit for DWI remains 0.10.
Police also have intensified roadblocks and have been speaking at schools and civic organizations, Kirk said. Jennifer's death "definitely impacted the community. It was tremendous just as far as the publicity aspect. When you go to parties anymore, the discussion is: `We need to be careful and not become intoxicated to drive home or there may be a roadblock,' and I think that has caused people to drink less."
Certainly pickup driver Jack Kerns' views have changed. Kerns, 31, who admits he was drinking but denies he was drunk, was accused of driving while intoxicated and without a license; it had been revoked for DWI. He is serving 71/2 years in Los Lunas Correctional Facility for vehicular manslaughter.
"Nobody regrets what happened more than I do," Kerns said, adding that when he gets out of prison he hopes to work in alcohol counseling.
Jennifer's mother, Marion Fleming, who is in the process of founding a chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers in Los Alamos, issued a plea to people who think they are sufficiently in control to drink and drive.
"If they had any idea what it's like to go through this, they would never take the risk," she said.