New drunken driving awareness campaign honors Carolina Perez

Zoë Dehmer
Staff Writer

Students gathered in the Compass on Friday as VCU Police Chief John Venuti and over two dozen officers from the Richmond and VCU police departments unveiled a new way to send a clear message to students about drinking and driving.

The tool: a vehicle called the Win or Lose Cruiser.

The Win or Lose Cruiser is the centerpiece of a new drunken driving awareness campaign and bears facts about both the monetary and human costs of drunken driving. Photo by Zoe Dehmar

The Win or Lose Cruiser is the centerpiece of a new drunken driving awareness campaign and bears facts about both the monetary and human costs of drunken driving. Photo by Zoe Dehmer

From the front, the cruiser looks like a VCU Police patrol car. From the back, it’s a bright orange taxi. On the hood and sides of the car are statistics about the dangers and the costs of drunken driving, including a heart bearing the words “In memory of Carolina Perez” emblazoned on the back left panel of the cruiser.

The vehicle is dedicated to Carolina Perez, a VCU student who died in a drunken driving car crash a little more than a year ago.

The vehicle has been dedicated to Perez as “a reminder of the human cost and impact of drunk driving,” Venuti said.

“Carolina was a young, bright, aspiring student here at VCU who was just driving down the street when her family’s life was changed forever. Her life was ended by someone that made a really bad decision. Her story is a tragedy,” he said.

Freshman student Judith Gutierrez was sad to learn about Perez’s story, and said she hopes that this new teaching tool “will get students thinking to make smarter choices.”

“I hope that (students) might picture themselves in Carolina’s situation and I hope that (the thought) hits them — ‘Maybe I shouldn’t drive,’” she said.

Among the crowd of police officers and onlookers, a group of volunteers from the VCU Wellness Center set up a table in the compass to share Perez’s story and give away T-shirts in support of not drinking and driving. The gesture was part of the Wellness Center’s “Real Rams” campaign.

Senior Brittiny Wolfe is an intern at The Well and helped pass out T-shirts to promote responsible drinking behaviors.

“We’re basically setting this up in memory of Carolina Perez, trying to encourage students not to drink and drive or to speak up if they see someone intoxicated about to get behind the wheel,” she said.

To receive a free shirt students had to sign Carolina’s Pledge, which states: “I pledge not to drink and drive so as not to hurt myself, someone I love, or someone who is loved by others. I will also speak up and step up if someone who is drunk attempts to drive.”

Venuti said the intention behind the creation of the car is twofold. Part of the vehicle’s purpose is to inform students about the high costs of a DUI in comparison to a far cheaper taxi ride; the estimated cost of a DUI could be almost $10,000 while average cab rides are about $20. More importantly, he wants people to remember that driving while intoxicated is a potentially life-threatening decision.

“We have RamSafe which provides a lot of transportation to students,” Venuti said. “Call somebody, call a friend, if you’re in trouble call your parents. All of these are better than having to pay $10,000 in legal fees and having a criminal arrest on your driving record for the next 10 years.”

Standing in front of the vehicle, Venuti said that if people are drunk he wants them to take cabs rather than driving. He stressed that there are always other, better options than choosing to drive intoxicated.

VCU Assistant Police Chief Chris Preuss noted that this academic year VCU Police have made 145 DUI arrests — a 71 percent increase from last year. He said that between 8 and 14 percent of DUI arrests over the last three years have been students.

“We want people to see this eye-catching visual that makes you stop and think so that the next time you’re out and you think to yourself that you’ll just risk it, hopefully this image will flag in your mind,” Preuss said.

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