On a fall night, in the mountains east of Prineville, I came upon a one-car accident.

A vehicle had stopped, a woman waved frantically and I could see a person lying on the shoulder. The woman called, "There's been a wreck. People are trapped in a car." I could hear muffled cries coming from the darkness. Crossing the road, my flashlight revealed the car below on it's side along Marks Creek.

Descending the bank, I found a teenage boy on the ground, covered with blood, entangled in barbed wire and calling out, "Help me." Through a torn hole in the car body, I saw another young man who was immobilized in the grip of crumpled metal. He was crying, "My back. Help me."

I then heard the pleading voice of a girl inside the car. The roof had been crushed, but ripping away the shattered windshield, I saw her under the jumbled debris of twisted seats and shredded upholstery. Asked her name, she told me. I reached in, in an attempt to touch her arm for reassurance, but my hand came up short.

In the darkness among the pines, odors obtrusive to a mountain stream hung in the air: hot motor oil, engine coolant, spilled battery acid. And the pungent smell of alcohol.

Other cars stopped and someone called for assistance. With pliers from my tool box, I cut the wire from the boy on the ground and then returned to the young man whose head was visible and tried to encourage him that help was coming.

Haunted by the injured girl, I returned to the windshield opening. She was quiet now and I again tried unsuccessfully to reach her. In utter frustration and anguish, I watched as her breathing stopped.

Emergency vehicles arrived, removed the survivors and I began the long drive home, ruminating about the effect of drinking on the three who lived and the one that died. It seemed bizarre that four healthy, active young people could commence an evening as intelligent, handsome, humorous, constructive individuals and then willingly consume a substance that would derail their lives.

I thought it preposterous that a tall, muscular lad, with lightning reflexes, strength and clear thinking, who could climb mountains, play football, or successfully defend his girlfriend would, of his own volition, ingest something which dulled his responses, impaired his agility, blurred his vision, clouded his judgment, rendered him inarticulate and, ultimately, reduced him to helpless vulnerability. Is that manly?

Driving through the night, I kept wistfully thinking that, possibly, the impact of this accident on these teens' peers would result in no one ever taking a drink again. But I knew better.

Next Saturday night (or Tuesday or Thursday), the case of beer will be opened, the keg cracked, the bottle uncorked, and intelligent, handsome, cheerful, humorous, constructive young people will again be deceived into thinking that drinking is cool. Others will believe that it can enhance their social skills, relieve their anxieties, obliterate their depression, overcome their timidity and gain them acceptance. Certain parents will model that drinking is acceptable and others that it is desirable.

I can't shake the senseless destruction of the young girl crushed in the car. If that hadn't happened, what might she be in 10 years? A nurse? A teacher? A nurturing wife and mother? Or, perhaps she would be an alcoholic, struggling through her days in a haze of missed opportunities, insulated from truly productive relationships, incapacitated, heading toward liver failure or perhaps breast cancer, focusing on another drink to flywheel through to another drink. It's a difficult puzzle to understand.

Vic Pike lives in John Day.

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