by Jeremy Morlock Iroquois High School juniors and seniors last week heard firs thand accounts of the tragedies that drunk driving can create, as well as other direconsequences of criminal actions. The“Legally Scared” program was presentedby the Iroquois district in partnershipwith Kids Escaping Drugs, with the aimof convincing teens of the seriousness ofthe choices they now make.Chief among the speakers were ElizabethObad, president of the Erie Countychapter of Mothers AgainstDrunk Driving (MADD), whohas lost relatives and friendsto drunk driving; and GeraldBalone, who served morethan 37 years in prison aftercommitting three murders inBuffalo in 1973, and spoketo students about the harshrealities of prison.“I’ve lost eight people inmy lifetime because someonechose to drink and drive,”Obad told students. Amongthose Obad lost was her father,killed in the Town of Hamburgwhen she was just an infant,and her eldest son, who diedin a 1994 crash.“Everything we do has aconsequence. Drunk drivingis a choice,” Obad said. Shecalled drunk driving “the mostfrequently committed violentcrime in our nation,” and toldstudents, “You need to have aplan should you fi nd yourselfin a situation where you needto get home.” Students shouldnot drink then drive themselves,nor should they ride ina vehicle driven by someonewho is intoxicated, Obad said.Obad shared the story of her neighbors,two young teenage girls, who were struckby a drunk driver while they were crossinga street. Obad was called to the sceneas a paramedic and identifi ed one of thegirl’s bodies at the hospital.She told of other friends killed, somewho were drivers, others who werepassengers.
“Drunk driving is totally preventable; it’s not an accident,” Obadasserted. “Somebody makes a choice,they choose to get behind the wheel, andthey kill, cripple and maim people… Noteveryone dies; over 600,000 people areinjured every year.Obad spoke at length about her eldestson, George Obad, a Marine sergeantand Gulf War veteran. In 1994–justdays after he was engaged to be married and a little while before he was setto deploy to Japan–George Obad diedafter riding on the back of a motorcycle driven by a friend who had reportedlybeen drinking. The driver also died in thecrash. “My beautiful son… was basically decapitated,” Obad said. “… I never gotto see him, I never got to say goodbye.”George knew not to drink and drive, Obad said, and had often served as a designated driver for friends. “In an instant,in that split second at the door, [George]made a bad choice” and didn’t stop his friend from driving, Obad explained.“I don’t want this to happen to you; Idon’t want you to do this to yourself oranyone else.”Justice M. William Boller of the StateSupreme Court and Elma Town JusticeRobert Pierce spoke next, emphasizingthe legal consequences of drunk drivingas well as other illegal substance use.“I came here with a chip on my shouldertoday,” said Boller, an Iroquois alumnus.“I’ve been hearing things about drugshere at Iroquois, about people bringingdrugs into the school.”
He pledged to bring more resources to combat druguse and abuse, and stiff penalties forviolators who come before him. “I wantto give people help if they want it, butit’s not going to be what you think,” heexplained, describing New York State’sShock Incarceration program.Pierce urged students to take thewarnings and the Legally Scared assemblyseriously. “As town judge, you’reprobably going to see me fi rst,” he noted,promising zero tolerance for “criminal,stupid behavior” such as driving drunk.“I don’t take any excuses in my court…I don’t have any problem sending youto jail if you’re found guilty,” Piercemaintained.Balone, with decades of fi rsthandexperience in the penal system, toldstudents just how awful prison couldbe, and promised the students that eventhe toughest among them wouldn’t beready for it.“On August 14, 2007, I was releasedfrom prison after having served over 37and one-half years in 17 prisons acrossthe state of New York,” Balone began.“And the reason I served 37-and-a-halfyears is because I killed three people ina robbery.”Balone described angry, violent andcriminal behavior in the years leadingup to his crime, including his involvementin a streetgang knownas the SavageOnes. Indeed,he noted thathis anger andbehavior worsenedduring the fi rst half of his time inprison.As a photo of Balone’s 1973 mug shotwas shown to students, he said, “As thatpicture was being taken, I was looking atthe photographer, and I wasn’t mad thatI had just killed three innocent people.I didn’t care if I was going to get thedeath penalty, I didn’t care that I would spend the rest of my life in prison.
The only thing that I was thinking about wasthat I was a Savage One, and I would notbe able to get those individuals who hadjumped me [in an incident a few daysbefore the murders].“For approximately 20 of the 37-and-ahalfyears that I was in prison, every timea new draft of people would come intoany prison that Iwas in… I wouldgo down to thereception blockand I would gofrom cell to cell,hoping, prayingthat one of thosepeople who hadjumped me would come to Attica or oneof the other prisons I was in. Because ifany of them had come to Attica, I wouldhave either killed them right there in theircell, or I would have caught them in theyard or in the cell block.”Born to an alcoholic mother and spendinghis youth in foster care, orphanagesand detention centers, then going toprison, “I learned to become a vicious,evil person,” he said.
Balone explained that he had been told he was mentallyretarded, and used that for years as anexcuse for his behavior. It wasn’t untildecades later that he found the diagnosiswas wrong.Looking out among the crowd ofstudents, Balone said, “I wonder howmany of you would survive if you wentto prison.” He described the sexual assaultsand other forms of violence withinprison, as well as drug use.He warned female students,“Young ladies, you are becomingthe fastest growing segmentof the prison population.”Balone detailed the humiliationsof being an inmate, includingstrip searches, cavitysearches, the loss of privacy,living in cramped and tinyquarters, and the necessity offollowing strict orders. “If youget arrested, you’re not goingto have any rights,” he warnedstudents.Though he has seen peopleon the outside glorifyingprison culture, they are wrong.
“If you go, you are in for theshock of your life,” Balone stated. Balone credited educationalopportunities he had in prison,including GED and collegecourses, with helping him tochange his outlook and his life.He now possesses an associate’sdegree, a bachelor’s degreeand two master’s degrees.On his seventh visit before a parole board, Balone wasgranted a conditional releasefrom prison.
“I’m on lifetime parole with 29 conditions, and if I violate anyone of my conditions of parole, I goback to prison for the rest of my life,”he explained.He now works as a motivationalspeaker, hoping to dissuade people fromthe same sort of decisions that led himto violence and to prison. Despite hiscollege degrees, Balone said he can’t fi nda regular full-time job, and warned thestudents of the damage that a criminalconviction could do to their prospects.Christopher Kloc, funeral directorat Paul A. Kloc Blossom Chapels inWest Seneca, told students of the bodiesof crash victims he has prepared forfunerals. “I put the pieces together,” hesaid. “I’ve had mothers who will neversee their daughter’s face; at some pointwith these accidents, I can’t put themback together.”Deputy Jeffrey Ely of the Erie CountySheriff’s Accident Investigation Unitspoke of the many accidents he’s seenthat were caused by speeding, drunkdriving, or both. He shared photos ofcrash scenes where the vehicles weremangled and sheets covered the bodiesof drivers and other victims.
Many of the cases he mentioned involved driversthe same age as the juniors and seniorssitting in the audience.Among the last of the guests to speakwas Elma Town Supervisor Michael Nolan,who said it is the duty of the leadersamong students to take their classmatesin the right direction.
“Are you going todrink a lot, or are you going to do somedecent things?” he asked. He noted thathe believes there are promising leadersin the class who can do the right thing.“We have state and federal resources,and we can come down as hard as wewant to” on drug and alcohol probems,Nolan said. “I can tell you the numberone priority in the town is this [senior]class at Iroquois Central. We’re goingto make sure we keep an eye on thepeople who are leading this class in thewrong direction… We’re going to workdiligently to keep a safe environment.
”Choices Had Dire Consequences Students Hear About the Results of Drunk Driving, Other CrimesElizabeth Obad told students how riding with a drunkdriver led to the death of her son, Sgt. George Obad, in 1994.Gerald Balone, center, tells students about the yearshe spent in prison. His presentation was part of a special assembly at Iroquois High School. The mug shot takenof Balone when he was arrested for murder in 1973 isvisible behind him.Photo by Jeremy Morlock“Somebody makes a choice, they chooseto get behind the wheel [drunk], and theykill, cripple and maim people”– Elizabeth Obad“I wonder how many of you would surviveif you went to prison”– Gerald Balone