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River Vale police boost HERO campaign to curb drunk driving

Photo Credit: HERO campaign
Photo Credit: HERO campaign
Photo Credit: HERO campaign
Photo Credit: HERO campaign

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: River Vale police have officially enlisted in the Ensign John R. Elliott HERO Campaign, run by a New Jersey-based, non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to registering designated drivers in order to reduce drunk driving — and, in turn, save lives.

PHOTO: River Vale Police Sgt. Gary Blumenthal

The HERO Campaign has been big in South Jersey.

But more law enforcement officers, professional athletes and other supporters nationwide have begun backing founders Bill and Muriel Elliott, whose son, Ensign John Elliott of Egg Harbor Township, was killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver weeks after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in May 2000.

Showing support, the River Vale Police Department this week placed HERO Campaign decals on all of its marked patrol cars.

“As we continue the fight against drunken driving, it’s great to have partners like the HERO Campaign to increase public awareness regarding the need for designated drivers,” said River Vale Detective Sgt. John DeVoe. “The HERO Campaign is making a difference and helping to save lives, and our department is proud to support the organization.

“We believe that the decals will be more than just a show of our support,” said DeVoe. “As our officers patrol the streets here, they will be a reminder to everyone in and around River Vale that drunken driving is unacceptable – and that people who offer to be designated drivers really are heroes.”

John R. Elliott (COURTESY: HERO campaign)

More than one million car decals, posters, and wristbands have been distributed throughout the region with the message: “Be a HERO. Be a Designated Driver.”

That doesn’t count the 100 or more billboards and the HERO campaign decals on police cruisers that now number into the thousands.

The Giants and Jets support the campaign. The New England Patriots set an NFL record last season when more than 23,000 Gillette Stadium fans pledged
to be designated drivers and ensured a safe ride home from the game for friends and family.

Hundreds of bars and taverns throughout North Jersey also display HERO Campaign posters with John Elliott’s picture and offer free soft drinks to sober designated drivers, said Mi chael Maher, the vice-president of marketing for the RCA Insurance Group, another co-sponsor.

During an interview last year, Bill Elliott said his son “dreamed of serving his country as a naval flight officer. Now, through the HERO Campaign, he is getting his chance. Now the heroes are the designated drivers who save lives in our son’s memory.”

In 2001, New Jersey adopted John’s Law 1, which requires police to impound the cars of drunken drivers for up to 12 hours. In 2005, President Bush signed a federal transportation bill that granted incentives for states to adopt similar provisions.

John with his Family

You can become a hero:

Alcohol-related crashes kill 15,000 Americans each year, and injure 350,000 more, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

And while the HERO campaign is not an anti-drinking program, it promotes common sense and responsibility.

By raising funds, HERO has been able to advertise on highway billboards and television commercials and through the distribution of hundreds of thousands of posters, car window decals, brochures and wristbands nationwide.

Elliott graduated with merit from the Naval Academy with a B.S. in Systems Engineering and was named the Outstanding HERO (Human Education Resource Officer) in his class for his service to his fellow midshipmen. As a HERO, John was a peer counselor and advocate for his classmates, helping them with academic and personal problems. He was also plebe summer company officer and lecturer, and a member of his division championship racquetball team.

In the early morning hours of Saturday, July 22, 2000, Elliott and his girlfriend, Kristen Hohenwarter, were traveling home from Annapolis, MD to New Jersey for his mother’s birthday.

A car swerved into John’s oncoming lane striking John’s car head-on, killing both John and the driver of the other car and seriously injuring Kristen.

Just three hours earlier, police arrested the other driver person for DWI. Soon after, he was released to a friend. He got back behind the wheel of his SUV – headed toward a tragedy that organizers and supporters of HERO say could have been avoided.

One of HERO’s goals is to provide a permanent endowment to establish the Ensign John Elliott Character Excellence Seminars as a permanent program at the Naval Academy. More than $100,000 has been raised toward the endowment.

You can help by making a tax-deductible contribution payable to the US Naval Academy Foundation, Inc. (Note that your donation is to be directed to the Ensign John Elliott Character Excellence Fund ):

John Elliott Character Excellence Fund
United States Naval Academy Foundation
(Attn: Class Giving Office)
291 Wood Road, Beach Hall
Annapolis, MD 21402-5001
(410) 293-1961

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