ELYRIA — Highlighting homemade recipes and holiday fun without the buzz, the Safe Communities Coalition of Lorain County held its 17th annual Zero-Proof Mix-off Thursday at Lorain County Community College.
As of Dec. 3, Ohio Highway Patrol has logged 939 OVI arrests in Lorain County this year, the fourth highest in the state. In 2017, it logged 379 OVI-related fatal crashes and 405 OVI-related fatalities.
Organizer Katie Bevan, a program manager with Lorain County Public Health, said the mix-off was started to promote sober celebrations and try to bring down those drunken-driving statistics.
“We work really hard to perceive these numbers as people, to remember that that was someone’s life, and so its really great to see so many agencies come out year after year and new ones get involved and … most importantly the message of sober driving,” she said.
Supporting the event were local law enforcement agencies, nonprofits and schools — with 22 total drinks for the hundreds of attendees to sample, attracting children and adults alike.
New to this year’s event was Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, with its “Berry Responsible Driver” punch. Melonie Welchans, of South Euclid, made the trip west to support the cause and speak to attendees on the importance of sober driving.
“My brother was killed by a drunk driver on his 24th birthday two years ago, so it’s a very important cause that’s very close to our hearts,” she said. “I myself, I go and I speak to drunk drivers every two months … to get them to realize that they have a second chance and some of us don’t.”
Helping deputies dole out a chef-approved coconut hot chocolate, Lorain County Sheriff Phil Stammitti was representing one of several law enforcement agencies that deal with the aftermath of drunken driving — from arrests to fatalities.
“It’s a heavy thing to get picked up for drunk driving and you end up hurting somebody or killing somebody — that’s not good for anybody,” Stammitti said. “It’s important for us to be involved to show the community we’re behind these kinds of things.”
He added, laughing, “You’ve got to watch you don’t drink too much sugar though. That’ll get you going a little bit.”
Patrol Trooper Ray Santiago agreed. The patrol won People’s Choice and Best Overall — partially by cheering for every vote their hot and cold apple spice options received — and Santiago said it was a chance to promote safe driving and interact with the public in a positive way.
“The holiday season is unfortunately one of our busier times for not-so-good reasons, so coming out and promoting ways for folks to safely enjoy the holidays, doing things like this and showing that there’s options (is important),” he said. “It’s the opportunity for us to come out, interact with everyone, smile and let them give us a ticket for a change.”