Troopers distribute drunk-driving video

Posted: Tuesday, January 21, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Some family members of people who died in drunk driving accidents are upset over an Alaska State Trooper video that uses photos and names of victims without families' permission.

Troopers have distributed about 400 copies of a free video, aimed at reducing the number of drunk driving deaths around the state.

The video, ''DWI: Alaska's Deadly Plague,'' is a compilation of photos from 30 fatal, alcohol-related crashes in a single year, 2000. Thirty-eight people died in the crashes.

''I'm really upset about it,'' said John Goodhand of Fairbanks, whose 18-year-old son Lucas Goodhand was killed Aug. 8, 2000, when a motor home he was driving left the fogbound Richardson Highway at a curve in Thompson Pass.

''I understand the need for education on these things, but at the same time I'm a little more upset that my son's name is used without anybody's permission,'' Goodhand said.

A spokesman for the agency apologized to the victims' families and said he hopes they will understand that the video is meant to prevent further DWI fatalities.

''The only thing I can hope at this point in time is that this video will save some lives,'' said Tim DeSpain, a visual information specialist who created the work. ''Anyone who knows somebody (named in the video) . . . I hope they realize what the purpose is.''

The video has been distributed to police agencies around the state, health and social services agencies, the Alaska Department of Corrections, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs and individuals.

''We've had only positive feedback from the people that have used it,'' Despain said. ''We have not had a single complaint call from anyone.''

The 46-minute video has been available for about four months. The first third presents summaries of each crash, while the rest focuses on the aftermath of one of the collisions.

Most of the brief narrations in the first part are heard while the screen is filled momentarily with still photographs taken at the crash scene by troopers and other police agencies.

Most of the photos show mangled vehicles. A few, however, also show the victims' bodies, either inside the wreck, dangling out of it or crushed beneath it.

The images do not remain on screen for long. Moreover, DeSpain blurred victims' faces when they could be detected. In no case is a face clearly visible.

''I certainly sympathize with the families of loved ones in there and was very careful not to release what would be surprising or shocking information, that didn't go out already through the media,'' DeSpain said.

The project was funded by the Alaska Highway Safety Office, and DeSpain did all the taping, gathering of photos and editing over an 18-month period, he said.

The victims' names were a key component, he said.

''It made it more personal,'' DeSpain said. ''These people, every one of them had a significant life. They aren't just a statistic.''

The mother of one victim agrees with him.

''People are so out of touch with the reality of a violent death,'' said Wendy Withrow, whose daughter Jessie Withrow was struck by the drunken driver of a pickup on July 3, 2000, while riding her bicycle on Minnesota Drive.

''I believe I understand why (troopers) did it and what their intended impact was, and their intended impact is very important.''

Marti Greeson, director of the Anchorage chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the video is startling and clearly not for everyone. But overall she praised the troopers' tact in presenting the crash images.

''They didn't go out there and very purposely videotape or show pictures of bodies as they were after a crash,'' Greeson said. ''They showed the horror of the vehicles, and you can imagine the horror of what was done to those people inside the vehicles.''

Greeson, however, would have preferred that troopers had consulted the families first.

''I think in Alaska we have a lot of room for growth in thinking first of the victims,'' she said.

The families of two of the 38 victims not only were consulted, but they also appear for most of the video during on-camera interviews.

In tearful words, the widows of Martin Richard and Ladd Macaulay -- killed on the Seward Highway near Moose Pass in a head-on crash with a drunken pickup driver -- and their children show vividly how a single irresponsible act can ripple outward with heartbreaking impact over an entire extended family.

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