Getting word out on drinking, driving

Getting word out on drinking, driving

Sunday, December 31, 2006

By David Guo
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



Getting the "Don't drink and drive" message across to an auditorium of eighth-graders can be a tricky concoction that puts fun, hip and wacky in the same room with sad, tragic and gruesome.

The fun part had Pine Richland Middle School Principal Kathy Harrington at a recent assembly leading a section-by-section stadium wave, rap-dancing with "Jimbo the DJ" and sporting Ray-Bans and "Men in Black" garb as she sprayed a barrage of plastic string squiggles.

The sad part had the auditorium going dark to spotlight the words of Elizabeth Mothersbaugh. She recalled the night her high school son nearly lost his life in a 70 mph car crash in Muncy, Lycoming County.

"Our son had already died twice at the crash scene. The doctors didn't expect him to make it through the night. Our son, who could die at any moment [with] no movement from the neck down, not expected to speak again. ... I couldn't believe this was my son."

A hall once abuzz drew silent. The stage screen flashed photos of the overturned car, the twisted guardrail, the ambulance cart, the face so mangled that it was beyond a mother's recognition.

Twenty-two years ago, Jimbo the DJ, of Road Radio USA, was Jim Mothersbaugh, 18, a "deer and beer" senior who thought that he, unlike the deer he was out night-spotting, was immortal.

This month, Mr. Mothersbaugh has taken his award-winning Road Radio USA show to some 25 schools across Western Pennsylvania, including Pine-Richland. The slick, multimedia approach is part MTV boombox, part live radio talk show and part stark reality.

It includes guest appearances by school staff -- in Pine Richland's presentation, Dr. Harrington and algebra teacher Patty Cekella appeared as the stars of "Men in Black," computer teacher T.J. Srsic as Elvis, and social studies teacher Joe Bailey as MC Hammer.

One of the show's prime sponsors, personal injury lawyer Edgar Snyder, gets into the act, calling in to tell kids that he has seen too many of the tragic effects of alcohol. "This is your life. It isn't a TV commercial," he says with that familiar wave of the finger.

The program is being presented to thousands of middle school pupils in Western Pennsylvania through a partnership between Edgar Snyder & Associates and Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

The program includes news footage of Mr. Mothersbaugh's near-fatal crash, in which he broke pretty much every other bone in his back. The miraculous but tedious recovery has left him with fatigue, memory lapses and brain-injury-related seizures.

"My best friend fell asleep at the wheel. On the way home, we hit a guardrail and we flew 75 yards. All four got thrown, one killed. I graduated in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down," he said.

To the casual eye, Jimbo the DJ hasn't missed a beat as a disc jockey, which is what he did for a living in Williamsport, Lycoming County, and Harrisburg before he got the idea for Road Radio. He's been doing it for about 10 years.

The night of the crash was far from the first time Mr. Mothersbaugh had been out carousing with his buddies. It began when he was in seventh or eighth grade, the target crowd for his presentation.

Just like the pupils in the Pine-Richland assembly, he had seen and heard plenty of "Don't drink and drive" programs while in school. As Jimbo the DJ and Jim Mothersbaugh the crash victim, he believes he can succeed where others do not.

State police would preach and wave a finger, he said, and although they were well-intentioned, "I knew I could reach the kids better than that."

"I'm not preaching, I'm just sharing, guys," he said near the end of the show. "Just do what you know is right, guys. Just stay away from the junk."

The show was well received and the best was saved for last, both the most compelling and the most wacky elements.

After the bloody photos cast the predictable pall, the flash of Elvis, MC Hammer and the "Men in Black" characters gets the crowd up and dancing and fending off the colorful plastic string.

"I thought it was a lot of fun the way they incorporated the teachers into dance, and I liked how they taught us about drugs at the same time," said Jenna Colaianne, 13, of Pine.

Jess Klimczyk, 13, of Richland, agreed. "I thought the movie was fun and informal. My favorite part was when they put the teachers in the dance. It just made the program a lot funnier."

"I think it's the best assembly we ever had," Dr. Harrington said. "The kids really enjoyed it, but they got the important message. They were coming up to me, 'This was like a rock show,' [but] kids, did you get the message? Yeah man, we're not going to drink and drive.' "

Dr. Harrington, the Will Smith impersonator, agreed.

"They were getting 'jiggy' with that. That means they loved it."

First published on December 31, 2006 at 12:00 am

David Guo can be reached at or 724-772-0167.

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