February 5, 2003
Clinton police officer, Methodist Rehab spread prom safety message to high schools
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
STAR, Miss.—On a busy morning just two weeks before their prom, about 150 McLaurin High students sat at attention and listened to the speaker in front of them.
It’s rare that teens actually want to be the captive audience of a uniformed police officer but Clinton Police Sgt. Creston Berch has their attention.
“It only takes two seconds to put on a seat belt and prevent an injury that can last the rest of your life,” says Berch.
Berch knows what he’s talking about.
As a part of Think First, Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s statewide safety and injury prevention program, Berch and other speakers are talking to high school students this prom season about the importance of wearing seat belts and the deadly dangers of drinking and driving.
In May 1994, Berch and a partner were involved in a serious car crash and while Berch sustained serious lifelong injuries to his head and spinal cord, his partner didn’t survive. Neither was wearing their seat belts. It’s a pain that Berch carries with him from school to school hoping to stop a similar experience from happening to one of the students.
After more than 18 months of rehabilitative therapy at Methodist Rehab, Berch was able to walk again. But he’s quick to tell the teens, he was lucky.
“I don’t remember May 22, 1994, but I live with it every day of my life because I didn’t take two seconds to put on my seat belt,” Berch told his audience. “Being safe is one of the most important things you can do for yourselves.”
Berch is captivating as a speaker largely because of his honesty, said Lisa Gates, Think First coordinator at Methodist Rehab. “It takes a lot of guts for a police officer to stand up and say ‘I messed up,’ but Creston does it every time he talks to students and they respect what he’s been through and they listen to him because he’s not preaching. He’s just telling it like it is.”
During the presentation at McLaurin, Berch and the Think First team gave students the chance to try on special goggles that simulate a 1.0 blood alcohol content. Students took turns shooting basketball in the gym before trying again with the goggles on.
Berch also had students attempt a field sobriety test while wearing the goggles.
“I was stumbling. I couldn’t even walk a straight line,” said Justin Barnes, 18, a senior and the McLaurin chapter president of Students Against Drunk Driving. “I sometimes have a hard time driving in traffic during the day, I know I couldn’t drive at night and intoxicated.”
Programs like this can be even more important in rural areas such as where many McLaurin students live, said Julie Clemmons, a teacher and SADD director at McLaurin. “When they come back from the prom, they’ll be driving through dark, winding roads at night. This is a great chance for us to show them how important it is that they be impaired through alcohol consumption and that they protect themselves by wearing their seat belts,” she said.
As a part of Think First, Methodist's statewide safety and injury prevention program, Clinton police officer Creston Berch talks to high school students this prom season about the importance of wearing seat belts and the deadly dangers of drinking and driving.
Sgt. Creston Berch speaks to 150 McLaurin High students as part of Methodist's injury prevention program.