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Drunken driving impact, up close

Citizen Staff Writer



Jesus Escarcega Jr. recalled the death of his son, the “little prince.” He choked up as he told Cholla High Magnet School juniors and seniors what the cost of drunken driving can be: a child’s bloody body on a gurney.

Art Lopez told the some 600 students what it cost him: a younger brother in a coma for the last 10 years. Emotion overcame Lopez as he told the tale.

The men spoke at a school assembly Monday morning aimed at telling the Cholla students about the dangers of drinking and driving. The presentation at the school at 2001 W. Starr Pass Blvd., included a mock driving under the influence fatal collision, staged by public safety workers on the school’s athletic field.

Drexel Heights firefighter and paramedic Beau Bickenese said telling family members of a loved one’s death is “heartbreaking.”

His partner, Scotti McKenzie, also a Drexel Heights firefighter and paramedic, told the students DUI crashes don’t always end in a fatality. “Sometimes you get put in a wheelchair.”

McKenzie described a DUI crash to which he was sent two or three years ago.

“When we got on scene, it looked like someone had thrown a grenade; it was terrible.”

In that rollover crash, McKenzie said, all seven people in an SUV were thrown from the vehicle after it collided with a suspected drunken driver. One of the seven victims is spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Two days later, the suspected drunken driver, overtaken by remorse, hanged himself, McKenzie said.

In the death of Escarcega’s son, Gaston F. Nido, then 24, pleaded guilty in Superior Court here to two counts of second- degree murder in the deaths of Manuel Escarcega, 9, and his friend, Valeria Riley, 10, according to Tucson Citizen archives.

Drunk, driving a stolen SUV and fleeing police, Nido slammed into a family van on Oct. 20, 2001, according to archives.

Nido received a 30-year prison sentence.

But, Escarcega told the students, his voice quavering, “What do I get? A lifetime of not seeing my son again.

“He was always excited about school,” his father said, “always making people laugh.

Lopez, a 1993 Cholla High graduate, told the students how, 10 years ago, he and his younger brother, decided to ride with a friend who had been drinking.

The friend crashed and “I have lost the last 10 years of my life because of that decision.”

The crash left Lopez’s younger brother in a coma from which he has yet to emerge.

His voice choking up, Lopez told the students, “A lot of this is very emotional; you don’t understand the impact this has on you.

“All I’m left with now are memories,” Lopez said.

After Escarcega, Lopez, and the two firefighters spoke, the students watched sheriff’s deputies, Tucson police, Drexel Heights firefighters and a helicopter ambulance crew stage a mock fatal collision. Students played the parts of six victims in the crash.

One of the victims “died,” while others were injured and had to be cut from the wreckage with power tools.

Sitting in the athletic field bleachers, watching the mock crash, senior Sikili Flores, 18, , said the presentation will have an impact on him. His uncle was killed 10 years ago when he was hit by a drunken driver as he walked along an area roadway.

Elizabeth Gonzales, 17 a senior, hopes it will have an impact on her classmates.

A number of them “go out and party,” drink and then drive.

“It impressed me a lot. It shows me this stuff is real,” said Chris Durazo, 18, another senior.

The presentation came just days before the school’s prom, scheduled for Saturday.

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