Skip to Content
November 4, 2019


P.A.R.T.Y. at the P.A.C. Raises Awareness of Distracted, Drunk Driving


November 4, 2019


P.A.R.T.Y. at the P.A.C. Raises Awareness of Distracted, Drunk Driving

APPLETON, Wis. – “I am Ben Pohl, and I am guilty of being a distracted driver. I paid a great penalty for that at the age of 17. My penalty was spending two years relearning how to walk and talk, and now, 20 years later, my life is still affected.”

That’s the message sophomores from 41 schools throughout Northeast Wisconsin will hear at the P.A.R.T.Y. at the P.A.C., to be held November 12 and 13, 2019, at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center (P.A.C.) in Appleton.

Hosted by the Trauma Center at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah and funded by the ThedaCare Family of Foundations and community support, the 22nd annual P.A.R.T.Y., which stands for Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth, aims to empower students to make safe choices by shedding light on the dangers of risky behaviors and their often life-changing outcomes.

Ray Georgen, MD, system trauma medical director at ThedaCare, will emcee this year’s P.A.R.T.Y. along with former Neenah Police Chief Kevin Wilkinson. Dr. Georgen explained the motivation for the event.

“One of the missions of the ThedaCare Trauma Center is injury prevention,” he said. “This program focuses on teenagers who are about to get their driver’s licenses. Year after year, we see teenagers involved in motor vehicle crashes. Our goal is to help teens recognize that they need to make right decisions and avoid that one bad decision that could change their life forever.”

Dr. Georgen explained they show students the process of a trauma situation, what it is like to be airlifted and to need emergency surgery.

“We bring in people who may have made bad decisions, who may have been arrested and may be serving jail time,” he said. “They talk with the teens about the impact that split-second bad decision has had on their life and the lives of the people they’ve killed or injured. People don’t leave the PAC the same person as when they walked in.”

Pohl, now 40, will be the featured speaker at the two-day event. 

In 1997, three months after receiving a Volkswagen Beetle as an early high school graduation present, Pohl lost control of the car, crashed it into the median on an Iowa interstate, rolling it numerous times. Four of his closest friends were in the car with him that night, on their way to a teen dance club in Davenport, Iowa.

Miraculously, Pohl’s friends were not seriously injured, despite the fact that none of them were wearing seatbelts. Pohl and one passenger were ejected from the car, and Pohl was critically injured. He suffered several broken bones, collapsed lungs, head injuries and was in a coma for 30 days. He spent the next five months in in-patient care and several years in outpatient rehab.

“The doctors didn’t expect me to live through the first night,” Pohl said. “I regret so much what I did to my Mom and Dad, especially the anguish they went through for 30 days wondering if I’d ever wake up again.”

Doctors credited the fact that Pohl was in great physical condition for helping him survive. He had been through Army basic training in the summer between his junior and senior year of high school.

Pohl notes that he wasn’t texting, talking on a cell phone or looking at a GPS — they didn’t exist in 1997.

“I was just laughing and joking with my friends; we had the radio blaring and I wasn’t paying attention to my driving. I was distracted, and I lost control,” he recalled. “It doesn’t take much to distract our brains. Simply being in a conversation with someone in a car takes away concentration from our driving”

He urges everyone to put his or her cell phone out of reach while driving.

“If someone decides to pick up their phone while driving, to me they are essentially saying they are okay with hurting or killing someone,” he said. “Your job when you’re driving is to drive; eliminate as many distractions as you can. We are not robots. Our brains are awesome organs, but they’re not efficient enough to do two complex activities, and driving is an important responsibility. Our lives and the lives of our friends depend on us acting safely.”

Pohl adds that his life is still affected.

“I have an MBA and graduated near the top in my class,” he said. “Because my speech is somewhat affected, people think there’s something wrong with me. I will be living with the repercussions of my accident for the rest of my life.”

The high schools participating in this year’s P.A.R.T.Y. include:

  • Amherst
  • Appleton East
  • Appleton North
  • Appleton West
  • Berlin
  • Bonduel
  • Brillion
  • Chilton
  • Clintonville
  • Fox Valley Lutheran
  • Freedom
  • Hilbert
  • Horace Mann
  • Hortonville
  • Kaukauna
  • Keil
  • Kimberly
  • Little Chute
  • Lourdes Academy-Oshkosh
  • Manawa
  • Menasha
  • Neenah
  • New Holstein
  • New London
  • Oakfield
  • Omro
  • Roncalli-Manitowoc
  • Seymour
  • Shawano
  • Shiocton
  • St. Mary Catholic-Neenah
  • Stockbridge
  • Suring
  • Tri-County High-Plainfield
  • Valders
  • Valley Home Schoolers
  • Valley New School
  • Wautoma
  • Wild Rose
  • Winneconne
  • Xavier

Other P.A.R.T.Y. presenters and participants will include David Schultz, MD, FACS; Appleton Police Chief Todd Thomas; Philip Yazbak, MD, FAANS, FACS; Judge Gregory Gill; Darcy Schehr; Brooke Wedeward; Mark Friend, Ben Pohl, Jeffery Roehrig; Corrina De Groot; Tim Wiitanen; Catalpa Health; Fox Cities Performing Arts Center & Volunteers; Fox Crossing Fire Department; Fox Crossing Police Department; Gold Cross Ambulance Services; City of Menasha Police Department; Neenah Police Department; NorthCoast Productions; ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah Departments: Emergency, Respiratory Therapy, Safety and Security, and Trauma Services; ThedaStar Air Medical; Winnebago County Health Department; and Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office.

This year’s P.A.R.T.Y. at the P.A.C. also includes four parent/guardian programs on November 12 and 13 and a coordinating presentation, called “Parents are the Key,” about proven tools for reducing teen driving injuries and deaths.

Dr. Georgen said parent engagement reinforces the message of the event.

“It leads to great dinner conversations,” he said. “Many teens believe they are indestructible, but you don’t get a do-over on these things.”

Pre-registration is required for the parent events at

Philanthropic support for this year’s P.A.R.T.Y. is provided by Bergstrom Automotive, as the Exclusive Presenting Sponsor, along with the 2019 Lamers Driving Experience, sponsored by Commercial Horizons, Inc., Lamers Motor Racing, and Faith Technologies; Thrivent Financial, AAA – The Auto Club Group, AZCO, Inc., SECURA Insurance, The Association of Hospital Anesthesiologists, S.C., The Community Foundation – Infant Welfare Circle of the King’s Daughters Fox River Fund, Community First Credit Union, J.J. Keller Foundation, Menasha Corporation Foundation, Surgical Associates of Neenah, Robert R. McCormick Foundation, American Digital Cartography, Inc., CoVantage Credit Union, Fox Valley Surgical Associates, Galloway Company, Gold Cross Ambulance Services, Neuroscience Group of NE WI, S.C., Staffency, Winnebago County Wide Crime Stoppers, Amcor Foundation, Badger Plug Company, Hand to Shoulder Center of Wisconsin, Premier Community Bank and the Ronald & Ruthellyn Musil Family Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.

In-kind support is provided by Festival Foods, Gibson Iron & Metal, Glass Nickel Pizza Company, Goss Auto Body and Wilson’s Towing.

“We are grateful to be part of such a generous community that makes it possible to present P.A.R.T.Y. every year and help our teens understand the risks associated with distracted driving,” said Holly Rutter, Regional Development Coordinator of Special Events for the ThedaCare Family of Foundations. “Without the personal and philanthropic commitment of our community members, parents and organizations, the impact this program provides wouldn’t be possible.”

Members of the media are invited to attend P.A.R.T.Y. at the P.A.C. at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12. There will be an opportunity for pre-interviews of participants. If planning to attend, members of the media must RSVP to Cassandra Wallace, Public Relations Specialist at 920.442.0328 or

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization serves a community of more than 600,000 residents and employs more than 7,000 healthcare professionals throughout the regions. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 31 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.