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Safe Ride Home: Volunteers launch effort to help youth

BAYVIEW — A group of South Whidbey residents have started a new program to get kids home safely.

In the wake of a car crash that killed three men on South Whidbey last month, a handful of people banded together to find ways to prevent a similar tragedy. Brian Grimm, who has a teenage daughter, saw a post on one of the victims’ Facebook pages from someone who had offered to give rides to inebriated youths.

“Something isn’t right when someone who isn’t trained to deal with these situations has to pick up kids in unsafe situations,” Grimm said.

So Grimm and others came up with a better answer: Safe Ride Home.

“Those three kids dying in that car crash hit home,” he explained.

Grimm has set up a retainer with Clinton-based All Island Express Taxi to pick up underage people during the winter holidays. The group’s vision extends beyond getting transportation for a teenager who has been drinking and can’t drive home; it includes finding rides for kids who may feel uncomfortable at a party.

Safe Ride Home focuses on those who haven’t reached the legal drinking age. Organizers said older people are well aware of the dangers of drinking and driving.

“Over 21 is not the problem here,” said All Island taxi owner and operator Ted Rosengren. “They know to call us.”

Fellow driver Bruce Grimm said the phone number is simple: 360-341-TAXI (8244).

“We go 24/7,” he said. “The phones never shut off.”

Promoting the initiative and making it official has proven more difficult, however.

Safe Ride Home Whidbey Island has yet to get a nonprofit status and is now being funded by Brian Grimm (Bruce’s brother). Grimm and Sarah Berger, who also has a teenage daughter, are hoping to raise $1,000 to use toward taxi fares.

Rosengren and fellow cabby Grimm will give rides to any kid who calls and needs to get home. But they said they won’t pick someone up from one home and take them to the Clyde, to a Friday night game and certainly not to another party.

“What we’re after is that single person who might drive to that party,” said Brian Grimm.

“We want it to be more than just a free ride home,” added Berger.

Confidentiality is important to the organizers, too, as they establish what the service will be, and what it won’t be. Organizers said they want to get teens home safely, and won’t ask questions about the things that led to someone needing a ride home.

“It’s not my business,” Rosengren said.

Safe Ride Home coordinators thought about building a base of volunteer drivers, but the challenge proved to be a bit daunting.

“A lot of people want to drive,” Rosengren said. “Come 2:30 in the morning, not a lot of people want to answer.”

Organizers also admit they face a tough task of trying to get teens to call for a ride when they need it, but also to not be seen as encouraging or aiding underage drinking. Still, the prospect of saving lives justifies the trouble.

“If we get one call, it’s worth it,” Grimm said. “They’re still alive when they get home.”

Safe Ride Home wants to spread its message to South Whidbey High School and Langley Middle School. They had contacted the principals there with hopes of having posters put in the hallways and also hope to talk to students during an assembly.

For more information on how to volunteer or donate, email Brian Grimm at bjgrimm@whidbey.com.

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