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Airola Hopes Message Will Reach Others

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Zach Airola was hoping his experience would have meaning to other teenagers, but is not surprised that it hasn´t.

The 18-year-old Angels Camp resident was convicted in April of two counts of DUI manslaughter.

He was 17 the night of Aug. 5, 2003, when a pickup he was driving left Highway 4 near Parrotts Ferry Road at a high rate of speed, rolled over and struck an oak tree. A passenger in the truck, George Langston, 19, also of Angels Camp and a friend of Airola´s since eighth-grade, was killed.

Authorities later said Airola had a blood alcohol level of .18, more than twice the legal limit of .08.

Airola was sentenced to complete a one-year residential treatment program. He will be on probation until Aug. 26, 2006, and must make a presentation on his experience and drinking and driving to an assembly at Bret Harte High School in Angels Camp.

He began his treatment in February at the Teen Challenge facility in Oakland.

Teen Challenge encompasses a number of programs and was founded by pastor David Wilkerson, whose earlier experiences in working with gang members was chronicled in the book and movie “The Cross and the Switchblade.”

Airola and his fellow students get up at 6 a.m. for chapel.

Then there are chores, and, because he was taking classes at Columbia College in automotive technology, Airola also does some vehicle maintenance.

Classes are based on a Christian curriculum and include studying the books of the Bible, Airola said.

Monday and Tuesday they go out on work programs that include construction or yard work to raise money for the program.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday they do more fund-raising, such as collecting donations at store-fronts or handing out fliers.

On Sunday they attend church. Airola also sings in the choir, which performs at various churches and collects funds for the program.

Much of the night of the accident remains a blank for Airola.

He and Langston attended a party in Murphys where beer was being served, but the keg was dry by the time they got there, Airola said.

“I don´t really remember anything after that until I was in the helicopter,” he said.

Langston had a bottle of Bacardi rum and they began drinking that, Airola said, adding his friend had had the bottle about a week and he did not know where he got it.

Another recent accident recently took the lives of two more Calaveras County boys.

A car carrying five boys went off Blagen Road in White Pines May 11, rolling over and ending up in a creek bed.

Steven Ferrari, 17, and Ernest Mann, 16, were killed. A third boy, Nick Tuana, suffered major injuries and is still hospitalized.

California Highway Patrol officers suspect alcohol was a factor and are reviewing security tapes from Big Trees Market to determine who may have purchased and given the alcohol to the boys.

Airola said he hoped his experience would have sent a message to other teenagers “but I kind of knew that it didn´t have that much of an impact.”

He added that teenage drinking is common at just about any high school, but there are particular reasons for its usage up here.

“There´s not much to do so that´s one of the main things,” Airola said.

Some people might point to the number of recreational opportunities available to young people in the foothills. But Airola said sometimes young people combine the two. If you go swimming, you have something to drink, too.

Airola hasn´t yet thought about what he´ll say during his presentation at Bret Harte High School.

Until then, he continues his work, study and therapy at Teen Challenge.

Calaveras Enterprise story by Craig Koscho. For more Calaveras news, click: