Students create moving messages targeting drunk drivers

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) – For several months, Green Bay city leaders have been looking for new ways to garner attention about drunk driving, specifically targeting youth.

They turned to high school students for help and discovered their efforts affected those kids in ways no one expected.

The soft music, the partying and the teen climbing behind the wheel drunk. That sets the scene for a deadly situation. In this public service announcement, or PSA, produced by teens at Green Bay Southwest High School, it’s a student hit and killed by a drunk driver.

“I let my mom watch it, and she started getting teary-eyed and everything, like, what if that was actually me that got hit,” says Matt Denny, a junior at Southwest.

That’s the kind of response high school students were hoping for as they wrote and produced the PSAs, making people ask #OW-Why? It’s the catch phrase law enforcement has been using in recent months to raise more awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving.

“We’re looking for that next generation to start bringing this message to their friends, so that we do create this culture shift that we’ve been after,” says Green Bay Police Lt. Karl Ackermann.

The mayor’s impaired driving task force, formed after a fatal OWI crash near Southwest High School in February, wanted to target young people.

They created a video contest, asking Green Bay high school students to create PSAs to deter people from drinking and driving.

Students did their research and set to work.

“Seven out of the 10 most drunken cities are in Wisconsin, so if it’s local, it helps a lot more,” says Southwest sophomore Mariaya Jackson.

They hoped their peers would pay attention to their message.

“If I can do it, maybe then they can do it… to not text and drive or drink and drive,” says Southwest senior Lee Chang.

But it did a lot more than make their friends listen up.

“There were moments during the shoot where we were in the cemetery or we were placing our actor underneath the car, where it was an awkward silence,” says Southwest technology engineering teacher Pat Van Lieshout, who helped his students with the video. “You could see the wheels turning that this could be real,”

For Lt. Karl Ackermann, it is very real.

He responds to OWI crashes, and for the first time Tuesday, was able to meet and say a heartfelt thanks to the students for doing their part.

“Very emotional,” says Ackermann, beginning to get choked up. “The kids get it. They understand the message.”

The winning PSA from students at Southwest is currently airing on WBAY-TV 2.

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