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Study: Drunk students drive despite consequences

Cara Lee, a former 20-year-old OCC student who was killed by a drunk driver, serves as the face of an excessive drinking awareness program.

April 04, 2012|By Britney Barnes

A slide show of Cara Lee greeted students as they trickled into Orange Coast College's student lounge Wednesday.

A baby, with brown hair and dressed in a pink ruffled dress. A toddler, her fingers in her mouth helping make a goofy face at the camera.

Cara, who was 20 when she died after a drunk driver hit her, was the face of OCC's "Do It for Cara Lee: Be the Designated Driver" program, which released the results of a campus study that showed students binge drink then drive, despite understanding the potentially deadly consequences.

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The program is part of a $220,000 grant from the Orange County Health Care Agency to teach the consequences of excessive drinking.

"We know lives can be saved by remembering Cara Lee and taking action to prevent drunk driving," said Sylvia Worden, OCC's associate dean of student health, who said it was Cara's death that moved her to take action and apply for the grant.

Cara, a former OCC student and cancer survivor, was in a car on Valentine's Day 2010 that was hit by OCC student Gustavo Adrian Vega, who was under the influence of alcohol.

Vega was sentenced in October to more than 20 years in prison.

Costa Mesa police Officer Chris Brunt was awoken that day for a call he has received too often.

"There are a few things that you'll never forget, and this is one of them," he said. "It's tragic and senseless. The reason it's tragic is because it could have been avoided."

Costa Mesa is No. 20 out of 442 cities in the state for the number of DUIs, with 913 drivers arrested on suspicion of drinking and driving last year, Brunt said.

Driving impaired isn't just limited to alcohol, he said. Illegal drugs like marijuana and legal drugs like Xanax and Vicodin can also lead to a DUI.

The OCC survey asked 434 students, of which 65% could legally drink, about their alcohol consumption, said Richard McGaffigan, who evaluated the surveys. The data showed 15% binged on alcohol three to five times in the last 30 days.

Binge drinking is defined as five drinks or more for men, and four drinks or more for women in one sitting, McGaffigan said.

Over the last 30 days, 6% of women and 3% of men had binged on alcohol 10 times or more.

The data also showed most students never used a designated driver.

"What is shown is there is a lot of work that needs to be done," McGaffigan said.

The survey showed that students understand the serious consequences of drinking and driving — DUI, being arrested, death — but that other reasons — wanting to sleep in their own bed, angry parents if they don't go home — outweigh the consequences, said Kelly Greene, who also evaluated the surveys.

Students also agreed that using a designated driver was the easiest way to get home, but many weren't clear about what a designated driver is, she said.

A designated driver is one who doesn't drink any alcohol, Worden said.

"It doesn't mean you are going to do it every time," she said, "but you are going to do it when it's important."

britney.barnes@latimes.com

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes

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