By BENJAMIN KIBBEY
The Western News
The Lincoln County DUI Task Force handed out bikes, gift cards and encouragement to participants in their first-ever essay contest for local students from elementary through high school.
The assignment was to write about ideas for ways to reduce drunk driving, said Montana State Highway Patrol Sgt. Neil Duram.
Duram said that the task force was interested in finding out if local youths had observations or ideas to share that they hadn’t come across yet.
But another goal of the essay contest was to begin planting the idea that drunk driving is unthinkable, even at the youngest age.
“Sometimes our only approach as a society is write tickets, put people in jail, and part of this is also recognizing, there’s other ideas, let’s be more effective in what we’re doing,” Duram said. “(The essay contest) involves these guys in solving the problem of the generation ahead of them. That’s where we solve things, instead of a reactive, a proactive approach.”
Duram joined Libby Police Officer Chris Pape and task force coordinator Sindy Filler to congratulate the top essay writers from the Libby area at Libby Middle School on March 2.
Pape said that he is happy to help with the task force’s efforts.
“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “I’ve been for it since the beginning, when they first started it. To try to stop the problem before it happens is pretty neat.”
Taryn Thompson, a Libby Middle School eighth-grade student, said that she wrote her second-place essay because she was concerned about the number of people who are killed each year in intoxicated driving collision.
Her essay begins with a 2015 estimate of 10,265 deaths caused by drivers under the influence of alcohol.
Duram said that at least one person dies in a drunk driving collision each year. Just last year, that included a Troy substitute teacher who was taking her children to school.
But the full impact of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol is much bigger, he said. There is no one tracking the untold number of people who are crippled — physically or mentally — due to collisions caused by an impaired drivers.
Thompson said that she hopes raising awareness among her classmates of the dangers will encourage them to speak up if an adult such as a parent is preparing to drive while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
What would she say, years from now, if instead of a parent it’s a classmate who wants to drive while impaired?
“I would tell them to not do it. Just to stop, and maybe get a taxi or just ride with me instead. We can solve the car problem later,” she said.
There were a lot of good essays to choose from, and picking the winners wasn’t easy, Duram said.
Out of 114 essays and 72 illustrations, the task force selected a winner for elementary, middle and high school from Troy and Eureka, according to Filler. No Libby high school students submitted essays, only elementary and middle school.
Libby Emily Harmon, fourth grade
Troy Mia Morrison, fourth grade
Eureka (home schooled) Sage Kalwara, fourth grade
Libby Taryn Thompson, eighth grade
Troy (home schooled) Draven Hilliard, sixth grade
Eureka Maya Carvey, eighth grade
Troy Kaylee Tunison, 11th grade
Eureka Elena Campo, 11th grade