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Emotions run high following DUI deaths
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A 22-year-old Stockton college student told Ripon students and parents Friday morning of suffering the loss of her younger sister to a boy friend driving under the influence in Linden in 2006. - photo by GLENN KAHL
RIPON — Emotions ran high in the scripted “Every 15 Minutes” deaths of Ripon High School students at a funeral attended by RHS upperclassmen and their parents Friday morning in the high school gym.

In place of a single eulogy, a series of concerned speakers lined up to deliver a collective message designed to drive home the message to  their audience after the horrific crash that played out on a campus street next to Highway 99 on Thursday.

Parents were not allowed to have contact with their teens for 24 hours following the crash until they saw them at the high school gym Friday morning.  Students were required to write letters to their parents to be read in the assembly and parents were also given the challenge of writing down their thoughts to their children.

San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Anthony Agbayni took the microphone in casual clothes introducing himself as an everyday citizen and then he put on his “work clothes” in the form of a judge’s robe.

“You can be charged with murder” in a fatal DUI conviction he told the students.  The judge explained that the murder charge required that the suspect know that his actions could result in someone’s death.       

Every student sitting in the gym listening to him had already learned,  through the Office of Traffic Safety sponsored Q-15 program,  that drinking and driving could result in a fatality supporting a murder conviction.

Agbayani shared his hearing of a fatal drinking and driving case from behind the bench – having to weigh the death of family members against the sentence he would mete out in a conviction.

But when dealing with a young driver who did something stupid – the fact remains that he did it – he did something stupid but it was his choice, the judge said.

“It was their choice not to drive – it was their choice to drink.  Whatever we tell you today – the bottom line is that you will have to make that choice.  I can’t give you a better word (for drinking and driving) other than stupidity,” Agbayani said.

“You see when I sentence somebody who’s a murderer, an armed robber, a child molester – you know I do that and I don’t lose any sleep at night – it’s my choice – it’s my job,” he said, saying it is a greater challenge to deal with someone who is young and without any kind of a criminal record.

Agbayani said when young suspects enter his court room, he is not there to be of help or to offer advice – but rather to oversee the facts and determine guilt or innocence and hand out the appropriate sentence.

Lost her sister to a drunken driver
Also taking the microphone in an attempt to share her grief in the loss of her younger sister, a petite, 22-year-old college student named Melissa quietly poured out her heart with her story hoping to reach the Ripon students.

As she faced a casket that separated her from the packed bleachers, she spoke of going on a camping trip with her family and leaving her sister at home to attend a homecoming dance.

A car in the form of a present was at the house that was going to be given to her sister by her parents when they returned. But they received a call before the weekend was complete that changed everything telling them  that her sister had been killed while a passenger in that vehicle.   A boy friend – under the influence –  had driven into an unfamiliar area in Linden where he lost control and it rolled over killing her.

Melissa said that even though it has been five years since her sister’s death, she thinks about her every morning.  Smelling her perfume keeps her memory fresh – but that is of little comfort.

She still remembers her dad collapsing on the floor in grief when he received the news of her death. It is a shock that lives on, she said.  With tears in her eyes she gripped the podium pleading with the Ripon students to listen to her.

Two other speakers took their turns – one a civil attorney, and the other a paramedic supervisor.

An attorney who represents crash victims attempted to impress the student audience of his intent to take everything from a drunken driver and his or her family in a fatality conviction.  He told the students that it is his job to represent the victim’s survivors, and in the process see they are treated fairly in the civil compensation, even to the point of wiping out the holdings of the responsible driver’s family.

The paramedic with American Medical Response – providing much of the ambulance services in many parts of the San Joaquin County – told of fatal crashes he had worked involving teen drivers and teen victims.  Keeping victims alive as they were being cut out of twisted vehicles and hoping to make it to the hospital in time were vivid memories he would rather have forgotten.

The entire program from its planning to its completion Friday noon spanned three days under the direction of Ripon traffic officer Stephen Meece and CHP public affairs officer Angel Arceo, of the Stockton office of the California Highway Patrol.