Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen


Citizen Staff Writer

‘Satan in a bottle” is what Tucsonan Monya Ballah calls alcohol.

And with damn good reason.

The stuff is not only thought to be responsible for last weekend’s death of her grandson, Johnny Smith, but also killed her daughter, Smith’s aunt, in 2005.

Smith, a Desert View High School graduate and Wabash College freshman, was found facedown in a pool of vomit in the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house at the college in Crawfordsville, Ind.

The 18-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene.

Smith rarely drank at parties, once in a while had a beer or two, said cousin Eddie Brown, but wanted so badly to belong to the fraternity that he’d go to any length to fit in. The final length was his death.

Smith’s aunt – Glenda Denise Renaut, 38 – died in a fiery car crash that also killed her husband – Richard Pierre Renaut, 31 – and the family baby sitter, Jodie Lynn Samuelson, 31.

The three were seen leaving a bar before the collision, and sheriff’s investigators believe alcohol was a factor in the crash.

Richard Renaut was driving an estimated 70 mph when he swerved over the center line and head-on into a truck on West Lambert Lane west of Oro Valley.

The car burst into flames.

The three were burned beyond recognition and identified through X-rays.

Ballah, 64, said her daughter was planning to leave her husband, partly because he drank too much, once she finished her master’s degree later that year.

She never got the chance.

These folks aren’t the only ones not given a chance because of the often fatal grasp of alcohol.

Tucson has had six DUI deaths so far this year, police say.

And the nationwide toll last year was 12,998 deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.

That’s more than 14 times the 900 students attending Wabash College.

Make that about 898, since Smith’s death and another freshman’s alcohol-related death last year.

Patrick Woehnker, 19, climbed atop and tumbled off a campus building. The coroner ruled alcohol a factor in his death.

Nationwide, about 1,700 college students ages 18 to 24 die every year in alcohol-related incidents, reports the National Institutes of Health.

That’s more than four deaths a day.

College drinking also leads to about 500,000 injuries and 70,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape every year.

No recent alcohol-related deaths have been reported at the University of Arizona. But that doesn’t mean students are not drinking.

A typical weekend ends up with a few UA students in the hospital with blood-alcohol counts of 0.40 percent, Ford Burkhart writes in the latest “Alumnus” magazine. A typical year includes about 1 percent, or some 370 students, kicked out of residence halls for serious alcohol or drug offenses.

“I am so angry,” Ballah said of her grandson’s death. “Johnny grew up in a household where he wasn’t around drugs or alcohol at all.”

UA has implemented some steps to limit excessive or underage drinking. Violators must enroll in a six-hour class that sets each back $100. Police plaster red tags on apartments of unruly students. Homecoming beer sales are restricted and monitored.

Very few students binge drink; those who do wind up with grades of D’s and F’s, warn posters put out by the Campus Health Service’s substance abuse program.

Perhaps a similar campaign should reach beyond campus boundaries. Every billboard featuring a bottle of vodka or beer next to suave men, glamorous women and a pristine beach should have a counterpart.

Show those same fine folks after a bar fight or car wreck.

Show people passed out on a heavily littered beach the morning of July 5. Coney Island needs bulldozers to clean up.

Moderation and common sense are the keys to drinking safely. But those are also the first things to go out the window once the booze starts flowing.

This wisdom won’t bring back Smith, his aunt or countless others dead because of alcohol, but it might save someone someday.

Artist, poet and Citizen reporter Ryn Gargulinski has seen too many lives destroyed by drink. E-mail: rynski@tucsoncitizen.com


Tucson had six DUI deaths so far this year. And the nationwide toll last year was 12,998 deaths.

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