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Deadly triangle: Youth, booze, cars

Jason Barber talks at a youth conference Oct. 8 at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds about how he was drunk driving when an accident killed his younger brother.  Listening with rapt attention is John Parrish, a Central Kitsap Junior High School Ninth Grader. - Photo by Rogerick Anas
Jason Barber talks at a youth conference Oct. 8 at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds about how he was drunk driving when an accident killed his younger brother. Listening with rapt attention is John Parrish, a Central Kitsap Junior High School Ninth Grader.
— image credit: Photo by Rogerick Anas

Jason Barber holds up a 1991 picture of he and his brother Aaron taken at a photo booth following a day of go-karting and batting cages. It was the last goofy-grinned photo snapped of Jason’s then 15-year-old brother killed days later by a drunk driver.

It was also the last picture taken of Aaron sitting alongside his killer.

Barber, a Southern California resident, brought his personal, gut-wrenching account of causing his brother’s death to a group of about 300 Kitsap students at the Third Annual Youth Conference Tuesday, Oct. 8. Held at the KC Fairgrounds, the event brought to life the consequences of drinking and driving.

“Drunk driving is not an accident, it is a choice,” Barber told the crowd of high school and junior high students. “It is a very selfish choice.”

Barber began his hourlong presentation with the story of two teen-aged girls who were killed by a drunk driver before revealing his own family’s tragedy. He talked about the two girls, held up their pictures and tried to convey the families’ pain.

“There’s a hole in these families that will never go away,” he said.

Then he relayed his own pain undulled by the past 11 years.

In September 1991 Barber had convinced his parents, who were going on a trip, to let him watch his younger sibling Aaron.

He took Aaron motorcycle racing. Barber and his group of friends wanted to celebrate their run and bought two cases of beer. They split the cases five ways. Then Barber and Aaron got in his truck to go home.

The windows were down, the radio cranked. The truck was hurling downhill at 95-100 mph, “Aaron and I were laughing,” Barber recalled.

“I thought that I was OK. But that’s what alcohol does, it makes you think you are fine when you’re not,” he said.

The truck rolled six times, Aaron was flung from the vehicle and landed on the pavement 25 yards away.

The teen lay “crumpled” both legs broken, one of his arms severed completely and a huge hole marked where the boy’s chest had been. Aaron was dead, Barber wished he was too.

“I can’t live with this,” Barber remembers yelling as he attempted to jump off a nearby bridge.

Barber served four and a half years in a California State prison for vehicular manslaughter.

Barber works as an alcohol and substance abuse counselor for a California school district and tells his story to children nationwide.

“If you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem. That’s the way it is,” Barber told the group.

“If you are too afraid to stand up for what’s right, too afraid of what people think to do what’s right — that’s weak. I am challenging you to be stronger than that,” he said.

He asked students to sign a contract with their parents to not drink and drive.

After Barber’s speech, students appeared receptive.

“I thought it was good,” said Lindsay Tanguay, a senior who attends Central Kitsap Alternative School.

Olympic High School senior Lorelei Penera called the presentation “powerful.”

“It makes me want to cry,” said classmate Danielle Martinez, who also serves as president of the school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions group.

Many of the students who attended the conference are part of their school’s alcohol and substance abuse prevention groups. Following Barber’s presentation the students were divided into workshops featuring perspectives from law enforcement officers and firefighters.

Youth Conference organizers hoped kids would get ideas from the daylong event to take back to their schools. The students themselves realize they have a challenge ahead of them despite the ideas gathered at the conference.

“Some people we reach, there are others we don’t,” Martinez said.

“But if we reach one person, we have made a difference,” she said.

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