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thedrifter
12-21-06, 09:31 PM
Stand down for safety
December 21,2006
CHRISSY VICK
DAILY NEWS STAFF

Sharon Brookins remembers the night her brother was killed as if it were yesterday.

She remembers her parents having to identify the body at the morgue. She remembers how they never fully healed thereafter, and she feels the pain that she never quite healed from, either.

“It was the day before my brother went to Vietnam,” said Brookins, an emergency room nurse at Onslow Memorial Hospital. “They went out partying and my brother’s best friend made a bad judgment call. Seven of them died that night.”

The memories were not just a fleeting moment, but a sobering reminder to Marines of the consequences of drunk driving.

Brookins was one of several Mothers Against Drunk Driving representatives who teamed with the Jacksonville Police Department on Wednesday to hold a pre-Christmas safety stand down at the USO for troops of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron-26, Marine Aircraft Group-26, 2nd Marine Air Wing aboard the New River Air Station.

The worst accidents related to drunk driving occur around the holidays, Brookins said. And Dec. 23 is the single deadliest day for accidents related to drunk driving among Marines and sailors.

As that date approaches, MADD and police representatives held Wednesday’s event to try to prevent those accidents.

The message was simple: Arrive alive.

“We’re too busy in the emergency room,” said Brookins, who is heading up the Onslow MADD chapter that formed in November. “Way too busy. We come here as Marine wives, as mothers, as people who have been affected … don’t be a statistic.”

Officer Brad Braithwaite Sr., the traffic crash homicide investigator with the Jacksonville Police Department and a retired Marine, knows the impact drinking and driving can have. He sees it daily.

“This impaired Marine collided into a Jersey barrier while on N.C. 24 on a motorcycle going 65 miles per hour,” Braithwaite said to a room full of more than 200 Marines. “His leg was caught in the barrier and had to be amputated.”

Braithwaite bore all the gory details and even showed the Marines a slide of the man’s leg, the barrier he hit, and the barely recognizable remains of his motorcycle. The troops in the room took a collective gasp.

“He lived, but others weren’t so lucky,” Braithwaite said. “In Onslow County, there were 28 fatal injuries due to alcohol-related crashes in 2005. There was one Marine killed last week who was wearing no seat belt and his car landed on top of him.”

Slide after slide showed photos of mangled cars as Braithwaite told stories of crashes.

“You guys are doing great on the battlefield, but you’re coming back and killing yourselves,” he said. “We don’t want that to happen.”

Lt. Col. Chris French, commander of MALS 26, said the squadron regularly tries to prevent such accidents. Wednesday’s program was all part of a fresh approach to the Marines’ safety stand downs, which are done regularly in the unit, French said.

“I know they’re kind of boring, but we’re trying to make them more interesting,” he said.

One program being implemented is the “Arrive Alive Program,” where each Marine is issued a card with numbers of local taxi companies. The taxi driver collects the fair from the officer of the day, and the Marine or sailor repays the fund within three days. The card also lists emergency numbers.

“Safety is first and foremost every time the Marines get together and before every weekend,” French said. “I think events like this do make a big difference.”

Contact staff writer Chrissy Vick at cvick@freedomenc.com or by calling 353-1171, ext. 239.

Ellie