LACEY, Wash. – Students at North Thurston High School are combating drunk driving and distracted driving through a very public campaign – by teens, for teens.
Every now and then, at the end of the day, students in the school’s “Rams in Action” program will stand at a busy intersection, holding signs with messages about the negative impacts of drunk and distracted driving.
“Maybe somebody will see it, they’ll tell someone and just keep it going,” said Joe Pallitto, the group’s faculty adviser.
For Pallitto, this mission is personal. In 2006, his daughter Jena Heidloff was killed in a crash. She snuck out of the house to join friends at a party, had some drinks, got in the car and started speeding the wrong way down Highway 18. She hit an 18-wheeler and died at the scene.
Before long, Heidloff’s parents decided to share their story with other teenagers.
“They were just overwhelmed,” Pallitto recalled. “They told us, in no uncertain terms, that they would never do it, that they would get the word out. And when that was over, we just looked at each other and said, ‘We’ve found our calling.’”
Eventually, Pallitto helped students created “Rams in Action,” a group that gets funding through State Farm’s Project Ignition, which requires students to make presentations on their safety campaigns.
During a presentation last week, Pallitto concluded by sharing his daughter’s tragic story.
“This is the result of what happened,” he said, pointing to a picture of his daughter’s mangled car. “We don’t want that to happen to anyone.”
Among those in the audience was the school district superintendent.
“Thank you, Mr. Pallitto, for really taking the leadership,” he said. “I honestly didn’t know you suffered that kind of loss. Thank you for sharing.”
Whenever he speaks to a group, Pallitto concludes with his daughter’s picture, hoping that is what they will remember.
“She would probably be the first one to tell you: Don’t do what I did. Look what happened to me,” Pallitto said.