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Marines learn the truth about driving

Who would have thought that watching YouTube videos, poking fun at hecklers and cracking jokes about the San Diego Chargers and Padres would keep Marines safe as they drive on San Diego’s freeways? Whether they were expected or not, those were the methods used by Eric Newbury, a California Highway Patrol officer who gave a pre-Labor Day safety brief on Sept. 3 to Marines on Camp Pendleton.

For the past three years, Newbury, who served 8.5 years in the Corps, has worked hard to put together a presentation that would not only hold the Marines’ attention, but get them to laugh, as they were reminded about the practices of safe driving.

“Marines get endless amounts of safety briefs,” said Newbury. “You have to get a little creative to keep their attention, so my presentation is like a rollercoaster.”

According to Newbury, more Marines have been killed in car collisions than fighting the wars overseas. Because of this, Newbury pulled no punches as he gave the Marines all of the information they would need to be able to drive safely on San Diego County’s highways and freeways.

“There are unique factors in San Diego County that make driving on our roads so dangerous,” said Newbury. “We have the casinos, which spit out angry and impaired drivers 24/7; we border Mexico, so Mexican nationals use their driving education here; we are a tourist town, with people going to Legoland, the Zoo and all the other attractions we offer; we are a college town with 69 different schools, universities and colleges; and our population is increasing every year.”

“Our freeways are not designed to deal with all these factors,” he continued. “When you’re on base, you go the speed limit because of the MP’s. You show them more respect than you show [CHP] because the moment you’re off the base, you’re going at least 20 to 30 miles over the speed limit.”

Newbury warned his audience that he would insult them and wouldn’t stop once he started. He also cracked jokes as he talked about how to avoid reckless drivers and road rage.

“There is at least one stupid person out there for everyone, and if you have been in an accident here that wasn’t your fault, you’ve probably already met Stupid,” he remarked. “Don’t fall into a false sense of security.”

In regards to road rage, Newbury stated, “You are going to get cut off, and you are going to be tailgated. Just let it go, because if someone is crazy enough to pull off the freeway to fight you, you don’t want to fight them.”

“You may have learned some pretty cool fighting stances, but don’t think that some crazy guy is going to let you get into stance to fight. He’ll probably shoot you before you get out of your car,” stated Newbury. “You deserve a better death than that.”

New motorcycle drivers on Base need to learn limitations as well, Newbury said, making his point by using photographs from a motorcycle collision that occurred several years ago. In this particular collision, a 21-year-old Marine from Miramar was killed after losing control of his motorcycle colliding with a tree.

Bob “Bubba” Vanschaack, a CHP volunteer, former Marine and motorcycle rider of over 50 years, was at the scene of the collision.

“I believe he was going over 100 mph. He hit the tree so hard that he knocked off half of the bark from the tree. [The Marine] had his whole life in front of him,” said Vanschaack. “This death is not meant for you. You sacrifice a lot for us, and it’s disheartening to see one of you die here. It’s one thing to die for your country, but it’s another thing entirely when you die here doing something stupid.”

Through the jokes, slideshow and the cold, hard facts being presented to the Marines, the biggest – and quite possibly the most important – message was projected: don’t drink and drive.

The days when the most drunk driving-related fatalities occur in the county, the CHP representative said, are July 4, Memorial Day, Christmas, Labor Day, New Years and Super Bowl Sunday.

“It costs near $15,000 if you get a DUI, and then you get to go to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) because you’re suddenly an alcoholic. No one deserves to enjoy themselves more than you. I’m not advocating adult abstinence, but I do think you should have a plan.”

Newbury has his own reasons for being so passionate against drunk driving. When Newbury was six months old, a drunk driver killed his father while he was on his way to work.

“The drunk driver had been out all night, but decided to ‘man up’ and go to work. I was a consequence of someone’s stupid actions,” said Newbury. “My dad missed every second of my life, everything that had any meaning in my life.”

It would appear that the frank presentation achieved Newbury’s goal.

According to CHP Collision Review Officer Keith Odle, another former Marine who also gives safety briefs to the Marines on base, collisions and deaths in the area have decreased dramatically.

In 2009, the Oceanside office investigated 54 collisions with 57 deceased. This year, there have been 18 collisions with 21 deceased thus far.

“Last year, by the end of September, we had seen 40 collisions and 31 deceased,” said Odle.

The area that the Oceanside CHP office covers involves the coastal area of Via de la Valley in Del Mar (on Interstate 5) to the Orange County line, and inland from Via Rancho Parkway in Escondido to the Riverside County line (on Interstate 15). From east to west, the Oceanside office is responsible for the area from Palomar Mountain to the Pacific Ocean.

The Marines responded to Newbury’s honest discussion.

“Newbury held our attention with his videos with his old school rapport, and he sure had an impact on us,” said Sean Michaels, a 25-year-old Marine from Texas. “I lost my own brother 25 days after he turned 21 to a drunk driver. I didn’t know the stats on how many Marines were lost here. I’ll have open eyes now, and be careful to regulate my mood when I’m driving.”

Paul Caporaso, a Marine from New Jersey, was also impacted by what Newbury had to say.

“[Newbury’s] story hit home, and it gave a face to drinking and driving victims,” said Caporaso. “I think the base has a good plan to help decrease the issue of drinking and driving.”

While base personnel are constantly reminded to be safe, the repetition is helpful, said Ssgt. Brian Buckwalter.

“It’s a good reminder before Marines head out on leave,” said Buckwalter. “The fact that Newbury was a Marine gives him a sense of credibility that, combined with the common sense of the message, speaks right to us.”

Newbury is happy to continue sharing his story with as many Marines as will listen.

“No one gets told not to drink and drive as much as Marines do. When you do something as selfish as drink and drive, I will not let you get off easy. If you kill someone else’s father, I’m going to make sure you get caught. This is tough love for you Marines,” said Newbury. “We need you, and your platoon needs you. I love all of you; you are all my heroes.”

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