HERO anti-DUI campaign expands focus along Jersey Shore

Be A Jersey Shore Hero billboard sits on the expressway heading into Atlantic City

The HERO Campaign has been invaluable in promoting the use of designated drivers statewide. But this summer, organizers are zeroing in on a place close to home — the Jersey Shore.

The organization, based in Somers Point and founded by Egg Harbor Township residents Bill and Muriel Elliott, plans to sign up as many as 500 bars and restaurants from Sandy Hook to Cape May as part of the new Jersey Shore HEROES campaign.

“The focus is on the Jersey shore this summer because of all the attention and bad (publicity) about going to the Jersey Shore from the MTV show,” said Bill Elliott. “We want to fight back and reclaim the good name of the Jersey Shore, and we’re going to do it one bar at a time.”

The HERO Campaign was founded after the Elliotts’ son John, a Navy ensign, was killed by a drunken driver weeks after John graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. Elliott said the new campaign will ask bar and restaurant owners to serve free soft drinks to designated drivers — something already done by many local bars, he added, “but we just want to expand it up and down the shore. … It may be a small gesture, but it could be a big one for someone who wants to drive home friends and drive safely.”

Alcohol-related crashes kill 13,000 Americans each year and injure 25,000 more, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Commission numbers cited by the campaign.

The group hopes to hold a number of meetings in places such as Atlantic City, Sea Isle City, Wildwood and points north, beginning with a May 9 meeting in Lake Como, Monmouth County, in which they hope to sign up 100 bars and taverns.

“We have about 75 bars so far,” Elliott said, “including most bars in Somers Point. They have posters up at Charlie’s, Gregory’s, Caroline’s, the Anchorage. … We believe that by the end of June, we’ll have 300 to 500 bars who believe in our mission statement. All bars at the Jersey Shore want to do the right thing and support designated drivers.”

Already, the HERO Campaign has a 60-foot-high billboard in Atlantic City advertising the campaign, donated by Clear Channel Outdoor.

“That is as in-your-face as it gets,” Elliott said. “It’s right as you’re coming out of Atlantic City, past the train station: ‘Be a Jersey Shore HERO, Be a Designated Driver.’ We’re trying to build awareness and recruit more bars and taverns.”

In addition, the group wants to keep track of designated drivers by giving out wristbands to anyone who volunteers to go without alcohol for the evening.

“It’s our hope to be able to serve at least 10,000 designated drivers up and down the Jersey shore,” Elliott said. “The number of cars people are leaving overnight and picking up the next day has increased quite a bit. Every car is someone who’s getting a ride.”

Jeff Thomas, owner of Charlie’s Bar & Restaurant in Somers Point and a member of the HERO Campaign board, said he was optimistic about recruitment among his fellow tavern owners.

“I think it’ll be a great turnout,” Thomas said. “Bars want to contribute to save lives by contributing soft drinks to designated drivers. The MTV show gave a black eye to New Jersey and how people party and do it irresponsibly. It’s fine if you have a few drinks, but make sure you have a ride home.”

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