Alcohol and Drug Awareness program 2009

It happened to me, it could happen to you ... Before an audience of freshmen, Zane Fees told first hand what drunk driving can do.

"Let the choices you make today, be choices you can live with tomorrow" was Zane Fees' opening line at the fourth annual Tri-County Drug and Alcohol Awareness Program on Wednesday, April 29, in Kadoka.

Fees spoke to freshmen students from Philip, Kadoka and Wall regarding a poor choice he made while in high school. Fees, who at the time, was a junior at Philip High School, said he disrespected his parents and went to a party. He had intentions not to drink, but ... when he left the party he was the driver of the vehicle which rolled and killed his best friend, Dalles Brucklacher. Fees had been drinking and now he lives with his poor choice every day.

"I made all the wrong decisions," Fees told his audience with a crack in his voice. The two young high school students were drinking, and neither wearing a seat belt. Fees said he called out for Dalles and every time, hoped he would be okay. Even when help arrived no one told him what was going on. The pickup had rolled on Dalles.

In the days after the wreck Zane had to face Dalles' parents, the community and others who loved Dalles. "How do I explain it?" he recalled. Dalles' parents were forgiving and asked him to be a pallbearer at the funeral. It was tough to lose a friend and only have a sprained ankle himself.

Fees was found guilty of vehicular homicide and sentenced to 30 days in prison at the beginning of his senior year. After graduation he served another 30 days. His drivers license was suspended for five years, he got 12 years probation, 1200 hours of community service and he was ordered to make five public speaking appearances a year. Alcohol treatment and after care was also completed.

Fees made his first, and what was by far the hardest, public speaking in front of his hometown peers. "Drinking is not worth losing a friend," Fees said to the teary-eyed crowd of listeners. Following high school graduation, Fees went on to further his education at MTI in the electrical field.

Mike Harris, a DUI crash victim from Martin, shared his wrong decision that he lives with every day. Harris was a 16-year-old junior athlete of many sports. On his coach's request, some of the teammates went to White River to watch an unbeaten team play ball. It was the athlete's decision to add alcohol to the road trip. Heading back home by the way of Kadoka, they almost hit a truck. Scared of what almost happened Harris said he wanted out of the vehicle, but later he got back in -- thinking it was the 'only' ride back home.

Traveling at a speed of 100 mph they wrecked at the White River bridge south of Kadoka. Harris was thrown through the back window and his clothes were ripped away. He recalled going to the hospital in Rapid City. Then everything was a fog. With 117 stitches in his face and one arm paralyzed and in a sling, he was released from the hospital 40 days after the accident. But that wasn't the end. He had snapped three nerves out of his spinal cord and eventually had his left arm amputated.

He never did get calls from colleges offering athletic scholarships. "Because of that night my whole life has changed. If I can get through to at least one of you (students) -- it'll be worth it," Harris said.

Lila Doud, a 25-year volunteer and president of MADD, spoke briefly to the students. Her daughter was a victim of a drinking while driving crash. "Play it safe," she said.

All of this was a part of the program sponsored by the Jackson, Haakon and Pennington County sheriff, police, fire departments and the highway patrol. The program is designed to educate how drugs and alcohol can affect families and communities.

Students took part in several activities in the parking lot. One of the favorites was driving a golf cart through a series of cones while wearing goggles which made the driver feel intoxicated.

The afternoon was spent enacting a mock accident at the Kadoka Airport. Seniors from the three high schools put on a skit which led up to the accident. What started out as a few drinks ended in pushing and shoving, a fight, drag racing and an accident which killed one person. Students were bused to the airport where they saw two overturned cars and students lying on the ground suffering from injuries.

The two drivers were arrested by the SDHP, other victims were tended to by the local ambulance services and one student, Michael Herber of Kadoka, was airlifted by Life Flight. Abby Niehoff played the part of the victim who died at the scene and was taken away in the Rush Funeral Home hearse.

Back at the auditorium, a Power Point video of the life of Niehoff was played on the big screen behind what could have been her casket with a spray of flowers. The victim's mom, Ruth Ann Niehoff, spoke of what could have been her daughter's unfulfilled dreams. She would not be attending her high school graduation, attending college, getting married, having children ....

State's Attorneys Gay Tollefson and Dan Van Gorp closed the program saying they are the ones who prosecute people who break the law. "You don't want to see us," Tollefson said. Van Gorp said, "This is your warning -- don't do it."