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What you need to know for 06/26/2017

Foss: West trial is sobering

Foss: West trial is sobering

Actions do have consequences, of course
Foss: West trial is sobering
Alexander West leaves Warren County Court on Wednesday.
Photographer: NED CAMPBELL

I grew up during the "just say no" era, when Nancy Reagan and McGruff the Crime Dog issued regular warnings about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

I'll never forget the anti-drug commercial that depicted an egg frying in a skillet as an ominous voice intoned, "This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?"

RELATED: Boat crash trial testimony focuses on drug use

I don't know how effective these campaigns were in the long-term, but they made quite an impression, and their message was very clear: Don't use drugs; it will ruin your life.

If I were crafting an anti-drug message for the new millennium, I wouldn't bother with McGruff the Crime Dog or a frying egg.

I would turn instead to the manslaughter trial of Alexander West, the 25-year-old man accused of smashing his boat into another boat and causing the death of 8-year-old Charlotte McCue.

The crash occurred in the evening hours following the idiotic festival known as Log Bay Day, an informal daylong party where attendees drink, do drugs and generally behave as if actions don't have consequences.

Actions do have consequences, of course, which is why West is on trial and the people he spent time with have been called to testify about the events leading up to the crash.

I don't know whether the jury will find West guilty, but the trial has had the same effect on me as those anti-drug public service announcements from years ago.

It makes using drugs and alcohol look like something that could ruin your life, not to mention the lives of others, and it makes partying on Lake George seem like the world's worst idea.

I know from experience that it's possible to drink beer and hang out on Lake George without crashing your boat or causing anyone's death, but the trial depicts a reckless and out-of-control summer subculture. One witness after another has described drinking, snorting cocaine and smoking hashish, and the effect has been quite sobering.

West tested positive for marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy, but that evidence won't be used at trial because a search warrant directing sheriff’s deputies to sample the defendant’s blood did not meet the technical requirements of criminal procedure law.

This procedural misstep explains why the prosecution is making such an effort to reconstruct West's every move -- what he allegedly drank, or smoked, or used.

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Log Bay Day is a wild party, and the trial feels like the morning after, where partygoers nursing terrible hangovers attempt to reconstruct what happened the night before. Sometimes these conversations are funny, but this time the conversation matters, and there's nothing funny about it.

"I didn't want to be involved; I'm here by law," witness Christina Parotta said this week, while testifying about snorting cocaine with West.

To which I say: Tough luck.

For better or worse, determining whether West should be held accountable for a young girl's death hinges on the groggy recollections of Parotta and other Log Bay Day attendees.

I don't know whether West's trial will convince people to steer clear of Log Bay Day this year -- officials have expressed a desire to end the yearly beer-and-drug blast -- but it should.

If there's one thing this trial has made clear, it's that there's nothing about this annual tradition that's worth preserving.

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Her blog is here.

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