Sierra Jo Cook was hanging out with one of her classmates when they decided to cruise around with some of the older boys from town.
About an hour later, the car crashed into a concrete convert, killing Cook upon impact. It was Dec. 23, 2008. She was 13.
The driver, Trent Davis, was 16 and was drunk. He and his friend walked away without a scratch. Cook's friend underwent surgery, said Melissa Cornelius, Cook's aunt. None of the Mangum teens was wearing a seat belt.
Cornelius moved to Mangum in 2008 so her children could be around family. A few months later, Cook died.
“We have had our ups and our downs,” said Cornelius, a Mothers Against Drunk Driving volunteer victim advocate. “We have our good months and our bad months. This month has been really rough because it stirs up a lot.”
Tragedy did not end the night Cook died. After a few more run-ins with the law, Davis killed himself March 22, 2012 when he was 19, Cornelius said.
“By no means, was that what we wanted,” she said. “From the get-go, I told everybody in this town, my goal when I started volunteering with MADD was that him and I can walk into that school and he could tell his story and he could basically apologize to her class for what he did and his mistakes.
“I never, ever wanted this kind of outcome; none of the family did.”
This story is a common one for law enforcement officers.
In 2011, 36 underage drinking drivers were killed or incapacitated statewide, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said.
“We are tired of going out, and working these cases backwards, where we find fatality accidents and we are going back and working back and holding people responsible,” said Erik Smoot, an Oklahoma Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission agent.
Besides conducting compliance checks, fake ID enforcement and party patrols, ABLE agents will be concentrating efforts on enforcing social host laws during a special push during the spring break, prom and graduation season.
“We want to prevent these things from happening,” Smoot said. “We want to be out there in advance. We want to stop these parties from happening.”
Social host violations — adults providing a place for underage drinking — are misdemeanors the first two times, unless physical harm is incurred. The third offense is a felony, Smoot said.
Providing alcohol to a minor is a felony the first time.
Also cracking down on underage drinking is the Oklahoma County Metro Alcohol Task Force made up of the Oklahoma County sheriff's office, Midwest City police, Bethany police and Forest Park police.
“Last year, we did one (a party check) in the northeast part of the county,” Oklahoma County sheriff's Lt. Dan Stow said. “There were over 200 kids there and we found a 17-year-old kid that was just passed out about 100 yards from the house in a ditch.
“That particular night, the temperature was falling and it was getting to around or below freezing. If he had stayed out there all night, he may have died from the exposure. We are making an effect.”
Start of addiction
Working with law enforcement agencies to combat underage drinking is the state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Department.
“Because of the way the brain develops, if you use alcohol before your brain is fully developed, you are more likely to be addicted as an adult,” state Mental Health Commissioner Terri White said.
“Those who drink before the age of 18 are six times more likely to be addicted as adults,” she said.
The average age for an Oklahoma child to start using alcohol is 13, White said.
“For these little towns, where there isn't much to do, drinking is a rite of passage,” Cornelius said. “It's frustrating because there is not a whole lot you can do. A lot of parents think it is a rite of passage because they did it when they were young.
“The consequences are irreversible. You can't bring somebody back from death. Even if you injure someone, you can't take back what you have done,” Cornelius said.
Report a party
To anonymously report an underage drinking party, call the Oklahoma ABLE Commission at (866) 894-3517.