By karl vilacoba
BRICK — The staff and student body of Brick Township High School took time out from their schoolwork recently to listen to some poignant stories about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.
In an all-day lecture series called Join Hands Against Drugs, held Oct. 24 at the school, 17 parents, support group members and law enforcement officials shared their life experiences with experiences. Venues ranged from a large auditorium to the smaller, more personal confines of the classroom.
One common thread among the speakers was the personal ways that drug and alcohol abuse have affected their lives.
A parent’s story
When Ellen Lurig of Phillipsburg, Warren County, took the podium early in first period, several students sat leaning back comfortably, ready for a nap. By the end of her talk, the silence in the auditorium was permeated by the sniffles of weeping listeners.
Before speaking, Lurig played a videotape that began with childhood pictures of her son Rob, set to a soft piano version of "My Heart Will Go On." The audience watched as the Lurig family grew together and young Rob evolved into a handsome, athletic young man.
Suddenly the film was interrupted by footage of authorities spraying down a flaming car wreck. News clips in the video detailed the fatal car accident that took Lurig’s son at the age of 16. The car in which he was a passenger was involved in an accident in Pohatcong, Warren County, in 1998 with a man who was reportedly drunk and speeding.
Lurig recalled sitting beside Rob on their last day together, running her fingers through his hair and telling him it needed to be cut. Later, Rob decided to go to a paintball store with some friends in what normally was a 10-minute trip.
"He kissed my cheek and said, ‘Later, mom,’ and that’s the last time I saw him," Lurig said.
Later that night, two police officers came to the Lurigs’ door to inform them of the crash. Rob was being treated in the intensive care unit of a Lehigh, Pa., hospital, still breathing but burned beyond recognition.
The hospital was more silent than she expected, she said. Against her husband’s and doctors’ recommendations, Lurig demanded to see Rob.
"I wanted so badly to hug my son, but I realized I couldn’t," Lurig said. "As I got closer, I saw that the beautiful hair I had stroked my hand through earlier was burned off."
Lurig lifted the burn blanket covering her son to reveal his legs, which she said were "busted up and burned to the bone." She said she wanted to hold his hand, but both were gone. The doctors asked for permission to amputate his arms, but she refused.
The Lurig family spent the next 15 hours hoping for a miracle as Rob was dosed heavily with morphine. Early the next morning, they decided they had no alternative but to let him go.
As a result of the tragedy, Lurig has decided to dedicate her time warning high school students about the perils of drinking and driving. If any students present were not yet moved by the lecture, one last visual aid was used to drive her point home.
"Because someone was ignorant and drunk, this is what’s left of my son," Lurig said, holding the charred remnants of cloth that were Rob’s flannel shirt and jeans during the crash.
Osbornville Elementary School Principal Dennis Filippone spent five years dealing with students just like those in the audience during his days as vice principal of Brick Township High School. During those years, he said, he saw too many cases of talent ruined by drug use.
But it was another case, a family-related incident, that brought into focus the importance for Filippone to reach out to youths.
About 20 years ago, Filippone’s brother-in-law was a southpaw pitcher with God-given, raw talent. Following a standout career at St. John’s University, Jamaica, N.Y., he was a draft pick for the New York Yankees, Filippone said.
One night, several prospects were invited to enjoy a game at Yankee Stadium. Filippone said his brother-in-law had a couple of beers at the game, decided to drive home and was killed in an accident on the Major Deegan Expressway.
"The family’s life can never be the same," Filippone said.
The key to being successful and avoiding trouble situations is to start setting goals at an early age, he said. Whether those goals are monetary, educational or emotional, what’s important is getting into the habit of achieving them, he said.
Filippone cited a recent study of the life expectancy of American females which concluded that about 97 percent who have reached age 15 will live at least until they are about 25. Most will see their 87th birthday, he said.
"You’re going to have to live from 25-87 with the decisions you made when you were 15-25," Filippone said.
"It will kill you"
Perhaps the most disturbing trend among teen drug users is heroin abuse, according to Jerome Hamlin, director of special projects of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, Freehold.
Kids are smoking, snorting and shooting up heroin, and it has resulted in two recent deaths in the area, he said. Most youths feel they are invincible, but his experiences have shown the truth to be tragically different, he said.
Hamlin said one of his toughest duties used to be identifying the dead and informing the families of their losses. One man in particular, Hamlin remembered, was an outstanding musician with an outgoing personality, and Hamlin recalled being struck by such a tragic waste of talent.
"I had to tell my wife that her brother was dead because of heroin," Hamlin said.
The pain for families in those situations never gets better, Hamlin said. Now and then, an empty seat at the dinner table or a passed birthday brings it all back.
"It will dance with you; it will mesmerize you; it will kill you," Hamlin said. "Your first time using heroin could be your last time."