2020 Never Drink and Drive Scholarship Winner
By Brandon Parento
As the flashing blue and white lights approach, you realize that the damage has already been done. A sensation of chills, confusion, and disorientation begins to swarm over your mind and body. Tripping over your feet and thoughts, you later find yourself behind bars in a cold room. Hanging over your mind is the innocent life you took away and a heart-broken family. A harsh realization sets in as you realize that this is your new life. Then you ask yourself, “If I called an Uber, a friend or even waited, would this have happened?”
Scenarios like this happen every year because of drunk driving. In the United States alone, drinking and driving kills more than 10,000 people. Nearly one-third of traffic fatalities in the United States are related to driving under the influence of alcohol. An issue that dates back before the 1900’s. Underage drinking continues to be a national and global issue and will continue to be unless we take a stand.
With the people in our lives, I have learned that it is important to be grateful for things that we have and the things that are taken away. Seven years ago, a close friend of mine was hit by a drunk driver. Brandon was his name. A Star athlete, scholar, and bodybuilder. Brandon had a bright future ahead of him. Until a tragic accident took it away. Walking home, a car came up behind and smashed into him. Immediately, Brandon was rushed to the trauma center with broken ribs, a fractured skull, and blood loss. The doctors didn’t think he was going to make it, but God had a reason and purpose for keeping Brandon alive.
Paralyzed from the waist down, unable to communicate, and tattooed with physical and emotional scars, Brandon was told he would never talk or walk again. However, Brandon proved everyone wrong. After two years of prayer and physical therapy. Brandon was able to walk again with the assistance of a cane. A year later, Brandon’s speech improved drastically. Beginning with syllables, then words, and now sentences. Today, Brandon continues to look after others as he shares his story with young people and speaks about the lasting impacts of drinking and driving.
In order to protect the lives of innocent people like Brandon, I believe it is paramount to stop future accidents. Bringing awareness and public support can lead the fight to eliminate drinking and driving before it ever happens. Offering informative seminars by victims like Brandon, and previous drunk drivers at schools and community events, can help raise awareness. Where children and adults can learn their story and avoid the same mistakes that drunk drivers made. Also understand the emotional and physical pain of the victim.
Going forward, I believe by connecting my community with drinking and driving prevention programs like M.A.D.D, Buzzkill, and The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can influence politicians to increase the severity of drinking and driving laws- such as reforming mandatory ignition interlocks for convicted DUI offenders, rehabilitation, and effective use of DUI Courts. For seven years, Brandon’s drunk driver has not seen justice. A combination of red tape, lag in the court system, and civil ignorance has allowed a man to go free. The sad part is that Brandon is’t the only one who hasn’t received justice either because of someone else’s choices.
Abolishing drinking and driving is a very difficult goal, but a necessary one. I believe if people are informed and have the incentive, through legislation, to be cautious, tragedies could be avoided. And people like Brandon can walk home without physical and emotional scars.
Brandon Parento was born and raised in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. He is headed this fall for the “city of brotherly love” in Philadelphia where he will be majoring in mechanical engineering at Drexel University.
Pat Rillera, Regional Executive Director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Southern California, will be selecting our winner later this week.