Teens learn driving safety in Start Smart program

ALPINE, Calif. -- More teen drinking accidents happen this time of year than any other because of the prom and graduation parties, authorities said Tuesday.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Alpine station is teaching teens and their parents about being responsible behind the wheel through a countywide program called Start Smart.

This was one lesson that 27-year-old Erin Limonchi wished someone would have taught the teen driver who killed her mother.

“When she was getting ready for work that morning I had spoken to her and wished her goodbye and a good day at work,” said Limonchi about her mother Pamela Marabeas.

Marabeas, a single mother of two, was driving to work in Santee at 6 a.m. on September 20, 2009 when she was struck by a 17-year-old drunk driver.

“I came home to a business card stuck in the security screen of our door and written on the back was ‘Please call regarding Pamela Marabeas who lives here.’ And when I flipped the card over it was the coroner’s card,” Limonchi said.

Three years after the accident, Limonchi takes the pain she feels from her huge loss, and uses it to help the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department educate teens.

“For her to have been taken away so tragically, and by somebody else, was absolutely heartbreaking and just shattered our world," Limonchi said. "I want new drivers and old drivers to know the consequences of driving drunk are very real.”

Each year 5,000 teens are involved in a deadly drunk driving accident. Lt. Robert Haley with the Alpine station said that number has not gone down.

He’s hoping Erin’s personal message can help change that.

“It works incredibly well to create an atmosphere for these kids that they understand if they get involved in drinking and driving, texting and driving, or speeding and they kill somebody-- how it affects their whole family,” said Lt. Haley.

One of his students, Mikayla Clark, 16, earned her license Tuesday and said she’ll never forget Limonchi's story.

“It crosses the message to me of what’s right and wrong. I feel sad, but at the same time I feel good knowing I’ll never have to be one of those people that has to go through that by causing it,” said Clark.