St. Petersburg Times Online: News of Florida
TampaBay.com
Place an Ad Calendars Classified Forums Sports Weather
  • Cryptic words, then she dies
  • Running mates debate likely a clash of wit
  • Bush leads McBride in TV time
  • Political Junkie: County Web site's votehart link takes Hart by surprise
  • Film pairs teen pop culture with a sobering message
  • Around the state
  • Supreme Court considers grandparents' rights case
  • Lawyer: Noose wasn't racist symbol
  • Law limiting damage suits upheld on appeal

  • From the state wire

  • Hurricane Jeanne appears on track to hit Florida's east coast
  • Rumor mill working overtime after Florida hurricanes
  • Developments associated with Hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne
  • Four killed in Panhandle plane crash were on Ivan charity mission
  • Hurricane Frances caused estimated $4.4 billion in insured damage
  • Disabled want more handicapped-accessible voting machines
  • USF forces administrators to resign over test score changes
  • Man's death at Universal Studios ruled accidental
  • State child welfare workers in Miami fail to do background checks
  • Hurricane Jeanne heads toward southeast U.S. coast
  • Hurricane Jeanne spurs more anxiety for storm-weary Floridians
  • Mistrial declared in case where teen was target of racial "joke"
  • Panhandle utility wants sewer plant moved to higher ground
  • State employee arrested on theft, bribery charges
  • Homestead house fire kills four children, one adult
  • Pierson leader tries to cut off relief to local fern cutters
  • Florida's high court rules Terri's law unconstitutional
  • Jacksonville students punished for putting stripper pole in dorm
  • FEMA handling nearly 600,000 applications for help
  • Man who killed wife, niece, self also killed mother in 1971
  • Producer sues city over lead ball fired by Miami police
  • Tourism suffers across Florida after pummeling by hurricanes
  • Key dates in the life of Terri Schiavo
  • An excerpt from the unanimous ruling in the Schiavo case
  • Four confirmed dead after small plane crash in Panhandle
  • Correction: Disney-Cruise Line story
  • tampabay.com

    printer version

    Film pairs teen pop culture with a sobering message

    ©Associated Press
    October 10, 2002

    PINECREST -- Helen Marie Witty, 16, strapped on her inline skates one evening in June 2000 and told her parents she'd be right back. She was struck and killed by a drunken driver shortly after.

    Her image hovered on a large three-panel screen used to premiere IRL . . . in Real Life, a film and Web site launched Wednesday by Mothers Against Drunk Driving at Palmetto Senior High School, where the teen was a beloved honor student.

    The film is a brisk medley of movie clips, music videos, interviews and personal testimony about the havoc that underage drinking and drunk driving wreaks on young lives.

    The MTV-style film, narrated by singer Jaci Velasquez, uses music by Weezer, the Calling, Our Lady Peace and other groups -- as well as a fast succession of movie clips featuring Mel Gibson, Will Smith and Tom Hanks -- to absorb young viewers for whom pop culture is a potent guide.

    A stream of stories about teens coping with the lure of alcohol runs throughout the half-hour film.

    A remorseful Carla Wagner, now serving a six-year sentence for Helen Marie's death, appears giving a court-ordered speech at Palmetto High.

    "Do you know what it feels like to be a murderer?" asks Wagner. She urges students to remember her, shackled and handcuffed, the next time they think about getting behind the wheel drunk.

    Wagner was drinking and smoking pot before she struck Helen Marie.

    A home video captures Daniel Stevenson of Gansevoort, N.Y., as he smiles and jokes beside his girlfriend. Both are dressed up for the prom. Daniel, 17, died months later in November 2001 from alcohol poisoning after accepting a dare from friends to chug an entire bottle of vodka.

    Three men who grew up in an inner-city Newark neighborhood recall being snared by drugs as teenagers. The friends don white coats and stethoscopes on the film, evidence that they rose above their murky prospects to attend medical school and become doctors.

    But at the film's core is Helen's story.

    The dumbstruck father who couldn't recognize his daughter from a cop's Polaroid of a cut and mangled girl. The friends who describe an "amazingly happy" teen. The mother who remembers her straight-A daughter's dream of being on Broadway.

    "She would have graduated from here last May if somebody hadn't made the wrong choice," John Witty told reporters before the film. "She loved Miami. She would have done great things here."

    "We'd like to believe Helen didn't die in vain," principal Janet Hupp said before the presentation.

    Belinda Alfonso, 17, a senior at Palmetto High, called the film "a real good deal" but doubts drinking will lose its powerful appeal among the young. "It's such a problem I don't even think my friends view it as a problem," she said.

    Wendy Hamilton, president of MADD, said the film is meant to help teens sort through conflicting messages about drinking.

    "We continue to view this as a rite of passage," Hamilton said. "We continue to wink at underaged drinking."

    IRL . . . in Real Life, funded by Chevrolet, will travel to schools across Florida and the country.

    Back to State news
    Back to Top

    © 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
    490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111
     
    Special Links
    Lucy Morgan


    From the Times state desk