By Jena Valenzuela
RENO, Nev. – Young women dressed in glittering gowns and young men decked out in sharp tuxedos all turned to look at Christian Bishop as he entered the room. He electrified the atmosphere as he entered the room in his marine academy uniform– the navy blue, rectangular jacket fastened with polished gold buttons and medals pinned to the shoulder made him stand out from the other young men there.
“It just felt like time stood still,” said Kelley Crane, a close friend of Bishop’s.
Bishop was an icon at Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek, Cal. during his first three years of high school before transferring to a marine military academy. As a wide receiver for Las Lomas football team, everybody knew who Bishop was, but students and staff knew him most for his big laugh and caring nature.
But in the early hours of June 3, 2011, Bishop became most known for his accident.
Bishop and three of his friends flipped and rolled their vehicle after a night out at a bar in Sacramento. Bishop and the two other passengers died on impact and the driver died in the hospital the next day. They had alcohol and cocaine in their systems.
Two weeks after the accident was Bishop’s graduation day. He had hoped to attend the University of Nevada, Reno at the start of fall 2011.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Bishop was one out of 5,000 underage alcohol-related deaths that happen every year. At the University of Nevada, Reno, the Do the Ride Thing program gears toward educating students on the legal and safe ways to use alcohol so they don’t repeat Bishop’s actions or his accident.
“It’s not worth it to just go drive and not think about the consequences,” said Natalie Kulaga, a junior biology major at UNR, who has also lost close friends to drunk driving accidents.
“They could’ve called someone else . . . they could’ve even called their parents and gotten in trouble for drinking, but that would’ve been better than what actually happened to them.”
With about 3,000 other supporters, Kulaga has signed a pledge with UNR’s Do the Ride Thing initiative promising never to drive intoxicated and to always use a designated driver.
“It just makes people think about the consequences and even though it’s just signing a piece of paper, it’s symbolic of the commitment you’re making to not drink and drive . . . even if the only good that comes out of is sparking a discussion among people, I feel like that’s making a huge impact,” Kulaga said.
The program offers “Wolf Tags” to people who sign a pledge. These small metal tags can be shown at participating restaurants, like the Little Waldorf Saloon and Archie’s, to receive special discounts and deals.
UNR’s Be In the Know program has worked with the Do the Ride Thing initiative to promote student safety with the funding of a $30,000 grant from the Nevada Office of Traffic Safety. With this funding, the two campus programs have launched a smart-phone application and a website, beintheknowtoday.org. Both include a calendar of campus events, a list of discounts for students and tips and information on using alcohol responsibly. The grant expires at the end of September, but Debbie Penrod, the publications writer for UNR Police Services, has worked with colleagues to write a second grant, which started Oct. 1, 2013.
Penrod feels that Do the Ride Thing, and other UNR alcohol prevention initiatives such as the Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention of College Students program have made a positive impact on Wolf Pack safety.
“We do know through data collected by Student Conduct, that the retention rate for freshmen has increased dramatically over the past five years,” Penrod said. “We have also reduced the number of incidents, arrests and injuries at football games . . .”
Christine Adams, Do the Ride Thing’s program manager, hopes that the Do the Ride Thing “Wolf Tag” program grows to include businesses farther outside of campus to eventually include partners from downtown Reno who will offer discounts to sober students with “Wolf Tags.”
But she has had some difficulty while talking to businesses about partnering with the program and she has walked away feeling that the initiative is not as important to them as it is to her. She feels that some businesses she has approached would not take a partnership with the program or its goals seriously.
Even with an average of 50 to 100 pledges signing up during each event, Adams said that the total of around 3,000 pledges is small overall.
Although still relatively small in comparison to other campus programs, Do the Ride Thing gets its notice on campus, online and during events with the help of its umbrella program, Be In the Know, a campus program designed to offer UNR students opportunities to have fun on campus.
Lane King, the Be In the Know program coordinator and senator in the Associated Students of the University of Nevada, said that the program offers alternative ways to have fun rather than drinking.
Also working as the Victim Impact Panel coordinator for Reno with the Northern Nevada DUI Task Force, Adams sees the tragedy and regret from drunk-driving victims and DUI offenders every month during the panel where victims tell their stories and share their experiences.
“Anything that we can do to stop that from happening especially to our students being so young . . . that’s the important piece,” Adams said. “Our job is to educate, the more times people hear the message, hopefully it will sink in more . . . ”
College students feel a lot of pressure to grow up very quickly as they transition into their adulthood and move away from home. Adams feels that most students don’t have the life experience to deal with the pressure making them especially vulnerable to drinking, which is why she encourages students to pledge with Do the Ride Thing.
“I see our college students specifically as a very bright part of everyone’s future,” Adams said. “These kids are getting educated . . . they’re supposed to be the future. We need to make sure they actually get there.”