A sign with the words “please don’t drink and drive” was erected on Highway 525 earlier this month in memory of Tim Keil, the 61-year-old killed by a drunk driver on Valentine’s Day in 2015.
As an advocate for safer roads, Bayview resident Brian Grimm was bothered when he saw another roadside memorial sign on South Whidbey. All he wants is to eliminate drunk driving deaths.
So he’s reigniting his once-dormant free emergency ride service in time for the holidays.
“My goal in 2018 is to not have any new signs put up,” Grimm said. “Give me that for Christmas.”
Grimm’s nonprofit organization, Safe Ride Home, is rebooting after a few years of inactivity. Started in 2011 in response to the deaths of three men ages 22, 20 and 19, Grimm set out to make sure South Whidbey never saw anything like that fatal wreck again. Starting with his own pocket money, Grimm established a service people could call in the case of an emergency. He set up the organization to serve those in need of a safe ride home who were strapped for cash and expanded the service to those in situations such as domestic violence or peer pressure.
The cab rides are prepaid by donations and organization fundraisers, such as the Cool Bayview Nights Car Show.
Safe Ride Home can be reached at 360-395-8714. All Island Taxi, a Safe Ride Home partner, can also be contacted at 360-341-8294 (TAXI).
Grimm says Safe Ride Home is for all ages. Those looking to use the service in case of emergency can call either phone number listed above, as the first contact dials organization partner Coupeville Cab Company, which routes the call to drivers in Central and South Whidbey. The second phone number reaches the Clinton-based cab company directly.
Safe Ride Home serves from South Whidbey to San de Fuca. However, those involved would like to see it expand into North Whidbey if funding permits.
“This is one of those things I’d love to see keep growing and booming to where it’s used properly across the whole island,” All Island Taxi driver Tony Caldwell said. “We just want to keep people safe. It’s something I feel strongly about.”
When people are picked up by a free taxi, they’re ordered to fill out a form with personal information. This is used to track ridership and monitor abuse of the free cab service. Over-usage from the usual suspects drove the organization into financial troubles a few years after it started in 2011. This way, the group can make sure the service isn’t being taken advantage of, Grimm says.
The forms are confidential between the user, driver and organization leadership.
Safe Ride Home only takes people to their homes. Cabbies will deny a ride to someone hoping to score a trip to another bar or party, as that would defeat the purpose. According to Grimm, cutting back on abuse by implementing the forms is one of the goals in rebooting the service.
“We’re keeping everything down as far as expenses go so this can be properly used by those who need it,” Grimm said. “In 2013, after two years, I was going into my own pockets wondering if I’d be able to keep this going. With these cuts and more outreach, we’re tightening it up.”
Grimm says the service was used 200 times in the first two years before sharply decreasing. But when a Vespa rider was killed by a drunk driver in Scatchet Head on Memorial Day this year, neighborhood resident Jessica Leon felt she had to spring into action. She reached out to Grimm to reboot Safe Ride Home, offering to perform outreach for the organization.
Leon has since become an advisor, talking with people and businesses on the island that tend to be around drinkers.
“I got involved because I have a Facebook page that promotes local things, and I thought I could do online outreach,” Leon said. “I’ve have also physically gone out and talked to the bartenders and restaurant owners. I’m planning to reach out to the student body at the high school as well.”
Leon, Grimm and Caldwell’s ultimate goal is for Safe Ride Home to be a ubiquitous service for emergency situations across Whidbey. They think with careful usage, fiscal responsibility and more donations that might just happen.
Either way, Grimm is determined to prevent another memorial sign from being put up.