George Avgares, left, director of Colorado Student Care, talks Wednesday morning with Jordan Porter, a Moffat County High School junior, about a college preparatory package she won in a drawing. Porter was entered in the drawing because she was wearing her seatbelt when stopped by the Craig Police Department. Officers gave out 207 certificates to students who wore their seatbelts in the 2009-10 school year as part of the Seatbelt Awareness Program.

Photo by Nicole Inglis

George Avgares, left, director of Colorado Student Care, talks Wednesday morning with Jordan Porter, a Moffat County High School junior, about a college preparatory package she won in a drawing. Porter was entered in the drawing because she was wearing her seatbelt when stopped by the Craig Police Department. Officers gave out 207 certificates to students who wore their seatbelts in the 2009-10 school year as part of the Seatbelt Awareness Program.

Moffat County students step up to seatbelt challenge

More than 200 local students recognized for safe driving

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Moffat County High School students, Craig Police Department officials and local business owners and representatives gathered at the high school Wednesday to recognize winners in the 2009-10 Seatbelt Awareness Program. Shown above, front row, from left, are Manuel Tarango, Jordan Porter, Zaide Duarte, Tim Bohne, Bryan Gonzales and Dixie Beck. In the back row, from left, are Jamie Eckroth, Dylon Camilletti, Cody Adams, Tony St. John and George Avgares.

2009-10 Seatbelt Awareness Program grand prize drawing winners:

• Jordan Porter — Colorado Student Care college preparatory package

• Zaide Duarte — in-dash car stereo from Jackson’s Office Supply

• Dylon Camiletti — Bicycle from J & R Cyclery

• Cody Adams — $100 gas card

• Manuel Tarango — Four tires from Tire Distribution System

— The five students, along with 202 others, were pulled over by Craig Police Department officers during the year and rewarded for wearing seatbelts.

Zaide Duarte was late for school when she saw the lights — red, blue and blinding white — in her rearview mirror.

“I freaked out,” the Moffat County High School senior said. “I was sitting there just waiting for the officer, and then he was like, ‘Hey, you got an award.’”

Instead of writing her a ticket, the Craig Police Department officer who pulled her over near the high school handed her a gift certificate as a reward for wearing her seatbelt.

“It’s just safe,” said Duarte, of why she always wears her seatbelt.

Junior Jordan Porter was pulled over for the same reason.

“My car dings really loudly if you don’t put your seatbelt on,” she said.

The students were two of five who won grand prizes in a drawing Wednesday morning as part of the Craig Police Department’s 2009-10 Seatbelt Awareness Program.

Students pulled and found wearing seatbelts were given a gift certificate to one of 43 participating local businesses, and entered in the final drawing.

A total of 207 gift certificates were issued this school year, police reported.

Porter received a Colorado Student Care college preparatory package, and Duarte earned an in-dash car stereo from Jackson’s Office Supply.

Dylon Camilletti won a bike from J & R Cyclery, Cody Adams received a $100 gas card, and Manuel Tarango was awarded a set of four tires from Tire Distribution System.

“We have to continually thank the merchants who support this,” said Tony St. John, a Moffat County School Board member and a local resident who has organized the event for 17 years. “They’re keeping kids alive.”

His efforts began after a tragedy struck a chord with him.

His son’s high school classmate and family friend, Ryan Danner, was killed in a car accident in 1994 while not wearing a seatbelt.

For St. John, it was the last accident he ever wanted to hear about.

After Ryan’s death, St. John, who was a Craig City Council member at the time, went on a ride along with a Craig Police Officer.

The pair pulled over a young person to commend him for wearing his seatbelt.

It was then the idea for the seatbelt awareness program was born.

The program has included more businesses and students each year since its inception.

“These kids, they think they’re made of steel,” St. John said. “They think nothing can hurt them. But, don’t take that chance.”

He said it has been many years since a high school student has been killed in a car accident while not wearing a seatbelt, but he said there have been a few deaths involving young adults and recent graduates.

Still, St. John believes the program has had an effect by positively reinforcing safe behavior and creating dialogue.

“I think it’s worked,” he said. “If we’ve saved one, we’ve done something.”

Craig Police Corporal Bryan Gonzales has been involved with the program for 10 years. He said it’s important to promote traffic safety among high school students.

“I think new drivers need to be recognized for doing the right thing,’ Gonzales said. “And, they can pass it on to others.”

During Wednesday’s award ceremony, St. John addressed the students in a friendly, fatherly tone.

“It’s very important to keep wearing (seatbelts),” he said. “It saves lives. And next year, be prepared, we’ll be out looking for you again.”

Nicole Inglis can be reached at 875-1793 or ninglis@craigdailypress.com.

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