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Drug Demand Reduction News

Senseless Deaths Haunt Highway


A picture of Ryan DeZurik surrounded by messages from friends, family

Posted by Capt Walter Murphy

The Civil Air Patrol Drug Demand Reduction program assists squadrons, groups, wings, and regions to instill an aggressive, positive, drug-free attitude in Civil Air Patrol members, Air Force families, DoD civilians, and school-age children through a comprehensive program that: promotes CAP as a positive community service lifestyle; encourages youth to remain in school; focuses on drug abuse education, prevention and awareness; and provides positive activities as an alternative to drugs and gang violence. The following exerts are from an article out of the Star Tribune Minneapolis Newspaper published this month. Please take a moment to read through it and reflect on this very common issue of drinking and driving. How does it feel to lose someone to a drunk driver? How does it feel for someone you know to be seriously injured by a drunk driver? Why do people drink and drive? What can we do to stop the deaths and injuries to drunk drivers? Nineteen-year-old Ryan DeZurik heated up a pepperoni Hot Pocket in the microwave. It was a warm summer Sunday afternoon, and he was heading off to work the night shift, collecting shopping carts at the Cub Foods in St. Cloud. His parents teased him about his dietary dependence on Hot Pockets, waved goodbye and watched his 1990 Toyota Corolla ease down their rural driveway. At 9:36 p.m., Sherrie DeZurik sent her son a text: “Still coming home after work?” Yes, he said, “have class in the morning.” Ryan never made it home. Six miles before he got there, on a hilly, central Minnesota stretch of Stearns County Road 17 near Spunk Creek, a three-ton Hummer H2 crossed into Ryan’s westbound lane at more than 95 miles per hour, plowing over the driver’s seat without braking and crushing Ryan, who was strapped in his seat belt. A breath test revealed that the Hummer driver’s blood-alcohol level of 0.346 was more than quadruple the legal limit. Five months later, cold winds blow over the roadside where Ryan died and where his family has placed a photo memorial as they ache for his wry smile and silky hair. A picture of Ryan DeZurik surrounded by messages from friends and family hangs framed in his parent’s home in Holdingford, Minn. Photo by Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune Their struggle is as common as it is heart-wrenching. With nearly 180 Minnesotans killed and more than 400 severely injured every year in alcohol-related crashes, drunken driving continues to relentlessly rack up sudden, senseless deaths and catastrophic injuries. The horror stories are never-ending: An intoxicated pickup driver zooms the wrong way down an interstate off-ramp in Minneapolis, colliding head-on with a van carrying a family of seven, ripping a pregnant mother’s placenta and killing her soon-to-be-born son last month. A drunken St. Michael driver speeds with his lights off in the wrong lane on Thanksgiving weekend, smashing head-on and killing a 17-year-old Buffalo High School student just two months after the driver picked up a previous DWI arrest. A mother with twice the legal limit of booze in her blood drives her Audi home to Minneapolis at midnight from a June high school graduation event for her daughter in St. Paul, barreling into a bus shelter on Lake Street and killing a pedestrian on his way to buy cigarettes. Every other day, a Minnesotan is killed in a crash involving alcohol. Every week, eight more people are severely injured. And reflecting a numbed apathy, nearly a quarter of Minnesota drivers admit they drove under alcohol’s influence in the past year, ranking third behind only Wisconsin and North Dakota in a national survey. … In many ways, Ryan’s case fits the profile of so many Minnesota DWI fatalities. The Hummer driver charged with vehicular homicide, 29-year-old Timothy Allen Rausch of Cushing, Minn., was a first-timer. Although repeat DWI offenders prompt outrage, 60 percent of drinking drivers had no alcohol convictions on their record at the time of a fatal crash. And state statistics show that the majority of fatal crashes happen on two-lane highways in townships of fewer than 1,000 people, such as the picturesque county road east of tiny Opole where Ryan died. Drivers in DWI-related collisions on urban highways have a 1 in 337 chance of dying, while 1 in 62 die in rural crashes, according to Stephen Simon, a University of Minnesota professor who leads a state DWI task force. … “Ryan was a bit of an enigma who was just coming out of his shell,” said John Jose, the Joy Christian Center youth pastor who watched him grow up the past decade and wears a bracelet with a shard of glass from the crash scene to remember Ryan. “Everyone would look at his dark clothes and dyed hair, but a gentle and brilliant spirit was willing and waiting to open up.” Once an unassuming, shy kid who guzzled Mountain Dew and played video games endlessly, Ryan had started writing deeply spiritual lyrics and singing his tonsils out in a thrashing Christian rock band called Oath by Blood. Youtube video clips — www.tinyurl.com/yexd4kz– show him growling in the band’s so-called screamo style. “Two weeks after the crash, I lay on Ryan’s bed gut-crying — when you can’t move and you can only curl up in a ball,” his mother said. She had been to the impound lot to extract what Ryan called his murse (short for man-purse), which held an inches-thick trove of lyrics to songs with titles such as: “Into the Abyss,” “Shell of an Empty Soul” and “Wolves at the Heels of Saints.” That night in his room, where Ryan’s caps still hang from the bed’s headboard, Sherrie found a note he had scratched on the back of one of his songs: My passion and purpose in the band: To meet kids exactly where they’re at and teach them that God will take them and use them where ever they are if they will submit their hearts, minds and bodies to Him, all the while learning to do so myself. … Sherrie asked morticians if they could view Ryan’s body before the burial. “There was no way I was going to go without touching my child one more time,” she said. She remembers kissing her son on the top of his head that Sunday at the kitchen table before he went to work. “A few days later, I’m kissing what’s left of his head in a casket,” Sherrie said. “No mother should have to do that.” Ryan’s neck and face were all bandaged, but they left some of his long bangs dangling. Family members snipped off some locks as keepsakes. They couldn’t help but smile through tears as they recalled how much Ryan hated getting his hair cut. … Ryan DeZurik would have turned 20 on Feb. 19. …

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