By all accounts, John Elliott was no ordinary kid. He was senior class president and graduated fourth in his class at Egg Harbor Township High School. He played offensive tackle on the football team and also lettered in tennis. He was the kind of student that teachers and parents knew was going to make a difference in the world. John went on to the United States Naval Academy and graduated with a degree in systems engineering with a merit honor and the rank of ensign in May 2000. He was slated to attend Naval Flight Officer School in Pensacola, Florida. John Elliott was on his way to fulfilling his childhood dream. Those dreams vanished on July 22, 2000, when John and his girlfriend were hit head-on by an intoxicated driver. John’s girlfriend was in a coma for several days and the intoxicated driver of the other vehicle was pronounced dead at the scene. John was travelling home to celebrate his mother’s birthday when the collision occurred. A copy of a Faith Hill CD intended as a present for his mom was found in the wreckage. As tragic as this story is, the nightmare for the Elliott’s was just beginning. It seems that Michael Pangle, the intoxicated driver, had been arrested earlier in the evening by the New Jersey State Police for driving under the influence with a blood alcohol level of .21. But less than three hours later, after being bailed out of jail by a friend, Michael Pangle was back behind the wheel again in his SUV. The head-on collision with John’s Nissan Altima happened a short time later.
Bill Elliott was true to his word. In addition to getting tougher DUI laws passed in New Jersey, Bill and Muriel Elliott launched the “HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers.” The campaign takes its name from the HERO of the Year award that John Elliott earned in his senior year at the Naval Academy that recognized his stellar character and leadership skills. The mission is a simple one: prevent drunken driving tragedies by promoting the use of safe and sober drivers.”
The goal of the Elliott’s is to have over one million people in America sign the pledge to be a designated driver. With successful launches in New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia they have already posted some impressive results.
This month we launched the “Be a HERO Campaign” in Kentucky. Bill and Muriel Elliott were present to help us in this endeavor. In addition to Governor Beshear signing a proclamation, we were joined by law enforcement officials, bar/restaurant owners, Alcohol Beverage Control, Office of Highway Safety and the malt beverage and distillers association.
The Kentucky law enforcement community does an incredible job of reacting to impaired drivers. Last year we arrested 25,841 drunk or drugged drivers. Imagine our span of effectiveness if we can prevent those drivers from ever getting behind the wheel. I believe it is our sworn obligation to do everything in our power to prevent another nightmare from happening to a family like the Elliott’s. I hope you’ll join me in our efforts to elicit support from the business community and the motoring public to make this campaign a success.
To learn more about the Hero Campaign, check out our website or go to www.herocampaign.org.