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Bergen sheriff boosts HERO designated driver campaign

Photo Credit: HERO campaign
Photo Credit: HERO campaign
Photo Credit: HERO campaign
Photo Credit: HERO campaign

HEROES GATHER: Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino this week made his department the latest organization to officially endorse the Ensign John R. Elliott HERO Campaign, a New Jersey-based, operated by a non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to registering 1 million designated drivers by 2012 to prevent drunken driving.

TOP PHOTO: Bergen Sheriff Michael Saudino, Bill Elliott, Bear Pascoe, Fair Lawn Police Lt. Bob Kneer

A host of state and local officials, athletes and business people joined Saudino on the steps of the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack on Tuesday in a show of solidarity for the worthy program.

Making the event even more noteworthy was the appearance of Bill and Muriel Elliott, the parents of John Elliott and founders of the HERO Campaign.


“We dedicate ourselves to saving lives in John Elliott’s memory,” Saudino said. “Beginning with Thanksgiving, we ask everyone to have designated drivers when their celebrations include alcoholic beverages.”

The HERO Campaign has been big in South Jersey, but now will have a strong presence in North Jersey, as well, the sheriff said.

Hundreds of bars and taverns throughout the region will be invited to participate by displaying HERO Campaign posters with John Elliott’s picture and offering free soft drinks to sober designated drivers, said Mi chael Maher, the vice-president of marketing for the RCA Insurance Group, another co-sponsor.

John R. Elliott (COURTESY: HERO campaign)

Showing their teams’ support were Giants players Jake Ballard, Bear Pascoe, and Mitch Petrus and  and popular former Jet Bruce Harper.

Bill said his song “dreamed of serving his country as a naval flight officer. Now, through the HERO
Campaign, he is getting his chance. Now the heroes are the designated drivers who save lives in our son’s memory.”

More than one million car decals, posters, and wristbands have been distributed throughout the region with the message: “Be a HERO. Be a Designated Driver,” Elliott said.

That doesn’t count the 100 or more billboards and the HERO campaign decals on more than 800 New Jersey State Police radio cars.

Among the dignitaries who attended the ceremonies and are featured in the above photo:

New Jersey U.S. Marshal Juan Mattos ;
NJ DEA Special-Agent-In-Charge Brian Crowell ;
Michael Fedorko , Chief, Port Authority of NY/NJ Police Department
NJSP Lt. Col. Louis Klock ;
Deputy Director Patti Valsac , NJ Division of Alcohol Beverage Control;
Representatives from the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety;
Bergen County business owners and community association leaders.

John with his Family

The campaign was established by the family of Navy Ensign John Elliott of Egg Harbor Township, who was killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver weeks after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in May 2000.

A year later, New Jersey adopted John’s Law 1, which requires police to impound the cars of drunken drivers for up to 12 hours. In 2005, President Bush signed a federal transportation bill that granted incentives for states to adopt similar provisions.

The Giants and Jets support the campaign, as do owners of various restaurants, bars, taverns and other businesses who often free soft drinks to designated drivers. HERO booths at eight Live Nation concert sites registered more than 1,700 designated drivers.

You can become a hero: HeroCampaign.org

Alcohol-related crashes kill 15,000 Americans each year, and injure 350,000 more, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). And while the HERO campaign is not an anti-drinking program, it promotes common sense and responsibility. Its slogan: “Be a HERO. Be a Designated Driver.”



By raising funds, HERO has been able to advertise on highway billboards and television commercials and through the distribution of hundreds of thousands of posters, car window decals, brochures and wristbands nationwide.

Elliott graduated with merit from the Naval Academy with a B.S. in Systems Engineering and was named the Outstanding HERO (Human Education Resource Officer) in his class for his service to his fellow midshipmen. As a HERO, John was a peer counselor and advocate for his classmates, helping them with academic and personal problems. He was also plebe summer company officer and lecturer, and a member of his division championship racquetball team.

In the early morning hours of Saturday, July 22, 2000, Elliott and his girlfriend, Kristen Hohenwarter, were traveling home from Annapolis, MD to New Jersey for his mother’s birthday.

A car swerved into John’s oncoming lane striking John’s car head-on, killing both John and the driver of the other car and seriously injuring Kristen.

Just three hours earlier, police arrested the other driver person for DWI. Soon after, he was released to a friend. He got back behind the wheel of his SUV – headed toward a tragedy that organizers and supporters of HERO say could have been avoided.

Here’s proof that many others agree with HERO and support its goals:

  • Adopted by the United States Navy Fleet Forces Command
  • Endorsed by the National Lieutenant Governor’s Association
  • Received the prestigious Public Service Award by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Elliott’s named the recipients of the prestigious 2004 Citizen Activist Award by the National Commission Against Drunk Driving (NCADD)
  • New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia and New York adopt the HERO Campaign as their designated driver brand
  • Adopted and promoted by the following professional sports teams: the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Giants and Jets, New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Rays
  • John’s Law adopted in New Jersey. Police impound cars of those charged with DUI for up to 12 hours. Issue responsibility warnings to those who take custody of intoxicated drivers
  • Because of John’s Law, 30,000 cars of DUI suspects are impounded in a year in New Jersey alone and police call it one of the most effective DUI deterrent laws in effect today
  • Federal John’s Law legislation was signed by President Bush as part of the 2005 Transportation Act. It provides $120 million in federal highway safety funds to impound vehicles driven by dui suspects
  • HERO message promoted at select Live Nation Concert venues and Nascar events
  • Active HERO Campaign participation at many colleges and universities across the nation including the Naval Academy, Monmouth University, Drexel University, University of Delaware, University of Maryland, Temple University and more
  • Awareness advertising including PSA commercials that have aired and billboards that have been posted from Massachusetts to New Jersey, Virginia to Texas and from Arizona to Washington State
  • Participating bars and taverns have noticed an increase in the number of cars parked in their lots overnight, suggesting that patrons get safe rides home and retrieve their cars the next day


One of HERO’s goals is to provide a permanent endowment to establish the Ensign John Elliott Character Excellence Seminars as a permanent program at the Naval Academy. More than $100,000 has been raised toward the endowment.

You can help by making a tax-deductible contribution payable to the US Naval Academy Foundation, Inc. (Note that your donation is to be directed to the Ensign John Elliott Character Excellence Fund.):

John Elliott Character Excellence Fund
United States Naval Academy Foundation
(Attn: Class Giving Office)
291 Wood Road, Beach Hall
Annapolis, MD 21402-5001
(410) 293-1961




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