A Letter to the Reader:
“Operation Drive Safe - Driving for Jennifer” was created out of something that had been overlooked at many music festivals. Every summer thousands of people get into their cars and hit the road. It’s the perfect time of the year to go camping, to go on vacations, to visit new places, and for many of us, to go to summer music festivals and to tour with our favorite bands. I have been doing this for quite sometime now and I don’t really see it ending any time soon. In the past I was always along for the ride, for the experience, to play, to see my favorite bands, and to just experience the joy of live music. However, throughout the last 8 months, my attitude has changed a bit toward my previous thinking.
Don’t get me wrong, I will still go to have fun, to play, to be with friends, and to see live music. However, I have added a new element to how I am approaching all of this fun, excitement, traveling, and festival going. Before, I never thought about getting involved in any aspect of these musical/camping events, I only thought about attending. Well, that all changed back on July 9th, 2002.
That day was probably the saddest day of my life. My friends and I were at the High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, CA. It has kind of been a tradition of ours over the last few years to go there and meet up. It is a great place to meet up, enjoy each other’s company and listen to live music, in a safe environment. Us, like so many other festival-goers, had a long drive ahead of us back home. We had a 12 hour drive from Quincy, CA to Flagstaff, AZ. Our car load arrived home safe and sound around 2:00am, the morning of the 9th. However, our dear friends, who were about 2 hours behind us, did not make it home safely. Their car went off the road about 100 miles west of Flagstaff, around 5:00am, on Interstate 40. Our dear friend Jennifer Marie Benton was tossed from the vehicle and killed. Our other two friends, Jodie Delaney and Jackie Birdsell, were critically injured and taken to Flagstaff Medical Center. I feel blessed to still have Jackie and Jodie in my everyday life.
I heard the news about the accident around 9:00 am later that morning. My roommate, Marisa Hernandez, who worked at Flagstaff Medical Center, went to work that morning, only to find out that 2 of her good friends were critically injured and that our friend Jennifer had died. I was woken up by Marisa’s sobbing and crying. She finally broke the news to me, I could not believe what I was hearing, it just did not register with me. It took a few minutes and then the news grabbed hold of me, Jennifer was dead. The day before all of this happened, I hugged Jennifer, smiled at her, and I talked with her. I had danced beside her at shows, we had shared our thoughts with each other, we had created a strong friendship, and I knew she had goals that she wanted to achieve. None of that could ever happen after July 9th, 2002.
The day of her funeral was when I started thinking about what I could do. I couldn’t bring Jennifer back, but I knew there was something I could do. After weeks of pondering, I realized that I could try to create some sort of program that would inform festival goers about the dangers of driving after festivals or shows, and the precautions one can take. At first, it just started off by me wanting to make some fliers to give to High Sierra attendees. I just wanted to share Jennifer’s story with others and try and talk to people about the dangers of sleepy driving, fatigue and driving, and drinking and driving. I told some of my friends my idea and they were all for it. They told me it was a good idea and they offered their assistance. However, as the weeks went by, as the months went by, this little idea was slowly evolving into something that has become quite huge. I mean, I have had people come to me to help, it has spread by word of mouth and now I have people wanting to help sponsor the program. By the way, any other sponsors would be great too! I just had to say that, but it got to people who had contacts and who knew a lot of other people. Coverage of the “Driving for Jennifer” program will be included in the festival issue of “Relix” magazine and will be shared throughout different media sources as festival season approaches this summer.
Ok, so we go to these big festivals and we dance, we laugh, we sing, we skip around, and basically we become a child again for 3 to 4 days. During those 3-4 days we don’t eat as good as we should, we usually do not drink nearly as much water as we should, and we certainly do not get the proper amount of sleep we all really need. So after the festival, we are usually exhausted, were tired, we’re hungry, and we usually have a drive ahead of us. For some it is short, but for many, it is usually a long drive. That’s where the “safety” of the festival environment fails. People need to know about the safety issues related to sleep depravation, fatigue, drinking and driving, and the causes of accidents. Jennifer’s accident was caused by fatigue and sleepiness, it happened at 2:00 am in the morning, and all of these factors play a huge role in thousands of accidents in the United States each year. Right now this program is aimed specifically at the High Sierra Music Festival, but that does not mean we will stop here. The contents of our website will discuss the positivity that the High Sierra Music Festival provides, it discusses why people go to the festival each year, and it discusses what happened to Jennifer and why. Finally, it provides the reader with information based on statistics related to accidents and the factors of fatigue, sleepiness, and drinking and driving.
The website provides the reader with options on where they may camp after the festival to catch up on rest, also included in the pamphlet is art work inspired by Jennifer’s spirit, and poetry written by Jennifer. All of this is included while relaying the message that “we will see you next year.” The latest addition will be motels that will offer discounts to festival-goers.
Anyway, I was just tired of not doing anything and I thought it was my time to do my share. I was inspired by a horrible tragedy, and I am sorry it had to happen that way. So, with the support of friends, with the support of my family, I found motivation and then I got a lot of help! I would really like to thank Carmen Bryant, a friend of Jennifer and a friend of the Benton family. She really helped me by reaching out and getting the attention of “Relix” and other media sources. I would also like to take the time and thank Anthony Benton for his time in organizing the brochures and the website. I would also like to thank Aubrey Freestone and Sam for their time and art work, as well as Valerie Morris and Steve Baron for their ideas and information gathering. Also, thanks to all you out there who made this a reality and who were there to encourage me all the way. And finally, I would like to thank Jennifer Marie Benton for being a part of my life.
Hopefully this program continues to build momentum, and hopefully I can spread this type of program to other festivals. I’m very pleased by what has happened, and everyday that I see my pictures of Jennifer around my house, I am reminded why I am doing this. I’m doing this so that no one else has to go through the pain of losing a loved one. Hopefully it works, and hopefully people listen and really think of the message we are trying to send out to everyone. This time, hopefully safety after the festival will not be overlooked.