A pledge not to drink and drive to a young woman who later may have died at the hands of a drunken driver has turned into a sober reward, a Mini Cooper, for Santa Maria High School graduate Elmer Barrueta.
The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District graduate won the car recently from McCarthy's of San Luis Obispo during a drawing involving hundreds of north Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo county students. All the seniors took a pledge and signed a year-long agreement to remain unimpaired during the "All In Driver" – No Distractions, No Excuses – program.
Barrueta had made a promise to his classmate Jade Dodson days before her tragic death in Santa Maria. The case involving a suspected impaired driver is moving through the Santa Maria criminal court system.
"We were really close friends,'' Barrueta said. "I made a promise to take her out for a night on the town if I won. Sadly, she passed away before I could.''
Barrueta's business teacher, Karen Draper, said her former student almost did not go to the drawing where he had to be present to win. Luckily, he was able to get time off from his employer.
"I was thinking of Jade and just had this strong feeling that I needed to be there,'' Barrueta said. "I had my fingers crossed. It was surprising and exciting.''
The experience of losing a student remains tough, but being a role model is alive and well for Draper and other teachers.
"We can all teach the importance of remaining drug and alcohol free,'' said Draper, adding not using any hand-held devices while driving are also important.
Nearly 200 SMHS students signed the pledge to remain sober for 12 months. All must have attended grad night.
Barrueta will attend San Jose State University next year.