Arrow-right Camera

Nation/World

Tragedy Hits Home Those Who’ve Lost Family To Drunken Drivers Try To Prevent More Loss

Sat., April 27, 1996

Jolene Sonesen spent Friday pulling students from classrooms at Mullan High School. Hildra Christopherson then painted each student’s face white.

For both women, it was deadly serious work.

Two accidents last year - five months apart - killed two recent Mullan High graduates. They were Sonesen’s kid brother, Ryan Lunen, 17, and Christopherson’s daughter, Diana Christopherson, 18. The two graduates had dated through high school.

This small community was hit hard, and the families wanted to do something to prevent further tragedies. “We started talking about it when Ryan was killed. And then when Diana died … we needed to do something to save another child,” said Sonesen after painting seventh-grader Jean Hegbloom’s face a ghostly white.

During the white-out on Friday, Sonesen drew a student’s name every 26 minutes - that’s how frequently teens die in drunken driving accidents. She called the students to the office and each left with a painted face, wearing a black robe. They were instructed not to talk to anyone, signifying the loss of life caused by accidents.

For participating, each got a free Big Mac and a video rental from the Polla Mart.

Ryan’s mother, Arlene Lunen, is the coordinator for Students Against Drunk Driving, which now has 38 members, and sponsored the white-out. Sonesen, who graduated in 1987 and lives in Yakima, speaks to teens and community groups about drunk driving.

Senior Jeanette Gohl knew Lunen and Christopherson. Seeing classmates with white faces struck a nerve. “You never know, this person could be the next one,” she said during lunch, while ghostly classmates lingered nearby.

The theatrics didn’t impress everyone. “I thought it was kind of stupid at first,” said sophomore Chris Dozier. “When somebody dies, it’s not about white faces and black robes. It’s more than that,” he said. “It gets the point across, though.”

Most of the 114 students in junior and senior high knew Ryan and Diana. She played the flute. He was the comedian who wanted to be David Letterman. She was a cheerleader. He had a garage band.

The two dated throughout high school and went to almost all the proms together. They loved to fish, making many trips to Montana. The pair’s families were good friends.

Lunen died when his car was struck head-on by a drunk driver going the wrong way on I-90 on June 27. December 1, Christopherson decided not to drive her own car after drinking, so she got a ride from Ben Hallman, 19. Both died when the car plowed into a tree. A third passenger survived. Hallman had been drinking.

Arlene Lunen and Hildra Christopherson, united by the lives and untimely deaths of their children, watched each “ghost” come and go from the school office, some snickering at their new appearance. “Kids don’t realize it could happen to them,” said Christopherson.

Alcohol awareness programs are planned throughout the region as high school proms approach.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


 

Click here to comment on this story »