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 Pass 'Casey's Law'  
 
San Francisco Chronicle Article
 IT IS tragic when any young person dies in an alcohol-related car accident. But the death of 20-year-old Casey Goodwin on a stretch of Highway 41 in the San Joaquin Valley three weeks ago seems especially so.
The vivacious Casey, a college sophomore and water polo player, was one of the leading youth activists in the state working to combat drunken driving. She was on the board of Teenwork, which involved young people in drug and alcohol prevention activities. Last summer she interned at "Friday Night Live, " a statewide initiative to reduce injuries and deaths caused by drunken teenage motorists. Recently she wrote in her journal that her No. 1 concern in the world was drunken driving.

"She was wise beyond her years," says her mother Lynne, who clearly sparked her daughter's devotion to the issue. For years, Lynne Goodwin has been a leader in running alcohol prevention programs in Tulare County schools.

On March 12, Casey left San Luis Obispo, where she attended a community college, and began what should have been a two-hour drive to her tiny valley hometown of Exeter to celebrate her mother's birthday.

Heading up Highway 41, she passed the monument marking the spot where rebel- boy actor James Dean died in a head-on collision in September 1955. Driving in the other direction was Fernando Ochoa, an unlicensed 18-year-old racing to get to his fast-food job in Kettleman City. He later told police he had consumed seven beers that afternoon.

About 6:30 p.m., witnesses saw Ochoa's Honda weave into Casey's lane. A bus in front of her obscured his deadly trajectory. She was unable to swerve to avoid Ochoa's car, which was coming at her at 90 mph.

After the accident, police reportedly determined that Ochoa's blood alcohol level was .19, more than double the legal limit. He is being held in a county jail on $250,000 bail.

Goodwin died the next morning from massive injuries. Her memorial service had to be held in the largest church in the county -- in Visalia -- in order to accommodate the 2,000 people who showed up to celebrate her life (for more about Casey, go to www.fridaynightlive.org).

Her story provides compelling justification for Assembly Bill 216, introduced by Majority Leader Wilma Chan, D-Oakland. The bill would assess a fee on beer and distilled spirits manufacturers equivalent to the amount they generate from alcohol consumed by underage drinkers.

The $100 million raised through the bill (an assessment of roughly a penny a drink) would establish community-based youth alcohol recovery centers throughout the state. They would provide an alcohol-free environment where young people can receive peer counseling, vocational training or other services they might need.

Chan hopes passage of "Casey's Law" also will discourage irresponsible marketing practices that entice teens to drink. "It should be a disincentive for producers to market and sell their products to children," says Chan.

Meanwhile, Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, has proposed the equivalent of a nickel-a-drink fee on alcohol wholesalers to reimburse emergency rooms and trauma centers for the costs of treating alcohol-related injuries. Our recommendation would be to combine the two bills, reconciling their compatible goals, so they are not competing with each other. The industry is lobbying hard against both.

Chan's bill faces its first hurdle Tuesday in the Assembly Health Committee.

Speaker Herb Wesson, who could help assure passage, has yet to take a position on it.

Casey Goodwin died on a home-front battleground that claims thousands of lives each year. The Legislature must take action as a more enduring tribute to her cause than the simple roadside cross that now stands on an isolated stretch of Highway 41. .

 Express your views

E-mail Bay Area legislators on the Assembly Health Committee.

Wilma Chan assemblymember.chan@assembly.ca.gov and two uncommitted Democrats

-- Leland Yee of San Francisco assemblymember.yee@assembly.ca.gov

-- Rebecca Cohn of Saratoga assemblymember.cohn@assembly.ca.gov.

-- Speaker Herb Wesson assemblymember.wesson@assembly.ca.gov.

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