ANOTHER VICTIM — Kristine Warlick winces as the grim reaper selects her as his next victim. Warlick was “just buzzed” and became a ghost roaming the halls for the remainder of the day. I-O Photo by Deanna Wakkinen
By Deanna Wakkinen, I-O Reporter
New to Red Ribbon Week this year was the “Ghost Out” on Oct. 27. The “Grim Reaper” walked the halls throughout the day searching for his next victim.
Students were preselected with parent approval to be taken by the reaper. After being selected, the student was taken out of class and given a shirt to wear related to their “death”. Their faces were also painted like ghosts and they were no longer allowed to speak until a special assembly at 2:30 p.m.
These students met for lunch and talked about how weird it was not being able to speak to anyone and Kelly Greer, EMS member, thanked all the students for the big difference they had made.
The reaper took victims who had been texting while driving, not wearing their seatbelts, drinking and driving, and who had overdosed on drugs. Students were informed of Montana statistics related to these fatalities in between class periods.
Any students that were bothered by the “Ghost Out” emotionally were advised to visit with the school counselor. The event was organized by the Pondera Medical Center’s EMS department and was also sponsored by the DUI Taskforce, 1st Liberty Federal Credit Union, Hot Stuff Pizza, 3 Rivers and the CHS faculty.
Guest speaker Joe O’Brien took the stage in the afternoon to speak about his experience as a meth user during his football career. O’Brien played football at Santa Clara University and Boise State University and went on to play for the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints. He continued his career as coach for the Bozeman Bobcats before it came to a quick halt when he was busted for transporting an estimated 360 grams of meth across the state of Montana.
O’Brien spoke of his up’s and down’s in his career related to his drug use as well as the harsh reality of his double life. He commented that although he was successful in his careers, he “wasn’t so successful in life.” He added, “I don’t make any excuses.”
O’Brien wrote the book Busted Bronco-From Addiction to Redemption and now speaks across the state to students about his experiences.
Raised by his father, an addict and drug dealer, O’Brien grew up in an area of California where he was the minority. After discovering his love for football, he continued to excel in the sport as well as in school. During that same time, his father served time in prison and O’Brien went between living with his uncle and father. Then, only a senior in high school, he found his father dead of an overdose in their home.
After his father’s death, O’Brien found himself getting more and more involved with drug use and he began using meth. He lived a double life, saying he felt guilty and alone. He didn’t want to let anyone down, so as the drug use got worse, he isolated himself more and more.
A new drug was introduced to O’Brien during his time in the NFL. GHB left him standing on the sidelines feeling as though his heart was going to burst out of his chest. To him, GHB, a sedative drink, “takes all the worries away.” It also took his marriage and daughter from him, as well, after his wife found him talking to himself and hallucinating up in the rafters in their garage.
O’Brien was admitted to a psychiatric hospital where he was considered 51/50 or legally insane. After two days he was released, only to relapse again. After his second release, he came home to an empty house.
He was able to stop using GHB after his NFL days but continued the use of meth on into his coaching career in Bozeman. On a drug run through Montana, he was suddenly surrounded with highway patrol and other officers pointing their guns straight at him. At that moment, all he could think was “just pull the trigger.”
He had nowhere to go. He was taken to jail for the weekend and managed to lie his way out until the federal government stepped in. He learned they had been following him for three years and that his career was over.
He served over two years time in federal prison and even made his way through the Shelby prison. He says that to this day, driving by sends back harsh memories that are almost too much to bear.
Now, nearly ten years later, O’Brien admits he isn’t even allowed to coach high school or junior high football, let alone at the college level. He hopes that his story and motivational speaking will help not only athletes, but students everywhere to stay away from drugs and to excel in life.
O’Brien now lives in Great Falls with his second wife and runs a construction business.