After a car crash in Wellington, Fla., on Nov. 25 killed young equestrian professionals Dana McWilliams and Christian Kennedy, Robert Dover wanted to do something. He knew Kennedy through his “Future Stars” program, and Dover decided to honor the 21-year-old’s memory by renaming the program the Christian Kennedy Future Stars Program.
But he wanted to do more to prevent drunk driving in Wellington. So he called up Tom Wright.
In the winter of 2016, Wright established a limousine service, with support from Romain Marteau, to take Sunday bar-goers from one place to the next and then safely back home.
“We thought, ‘There’s no reason for us not to help our own,’ ” said Wright, who owns Uphill Farm in Wellington. “And if that means having a limo service available to get these kids home safely, there’s no reason why we can’t do it. The hunter/jumper community has been unbelievably supportive of it. We started with one limousine here, and in two weeks we had four limousines.”
Dover knew of Wright’s service, but he wanted to spread the word and expand. The pair worked together to add Saturday nights, relying on sponsorships to pay for each car, about $650 per vehicle. To make the program more visible and encourage people to participate, celebrity bouncers will now patrol the bars on Saturday and Sunday nights. Two adults wearing bright shirts that read: “Use horse sense. Get home safe.” will be at the bars from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. to discourage people from driving if they’ve been drinking.
Worried about leaving your car at the bar? One of the bouncers will drive it home for you and return to the bar via the limo.
“It doesn’t matter what state you’re in or city, people leave places, get into their cars, and drive when they shouldn’t,” said Dover. “We’re making sure that there are enough cars to be able to give rides to everybody who needs a ride throughout the season.
“To get an Uber car in Wellington during the daytime can take 15 to 20 minutes,” he continued. “There just aren’t that many drivers. In that 15 or 20 minutes, kids and adults make choices. And they think, ‘Oh, I only live a mile away or less.’ And they get in their car and think, ‘What could happen?’ But yet it does. Every year after year.”
The celebrity bouncer program launches Dec. 2, and Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig and TV star Carson Kressley will take the starring roles, followed by hunter trainer Bob Crandall and show jumper Tiffany Foster on Sunday night.
Grand prix rider Zazou Hoffman, who works for Meadow Grove Farms, started a similar service three years ago in Thermal, Calif.
“When we started it we just wanted to really bring awareness to the issue,” said Hoffman. “To start getting people thinking about, ‘OK maybe even if there’s not a car there waiting for you, maybe it would be a good idea to call an Uber or call a friend.’
“I’ve definitely noticed less people driving themselves out, which forces you not to drive home,” she continued. “It just seems like more and more people are using the cars or asking for rides and things like that. I think it’s helping. Ultimately, people have to be responsible, but anything we can do to help.”
“If we can provide something to at least save one person, the entire endeavor is worth it,” added Wright.
Wright and Dover have been overwhelmed by support from the Wellington community to make these changes in local drinking culture.
“I can’t tell you how many people reached out to me and said, ‘I want to be a part of this,’ ” said Dover. “Council people from the Wellington Council, a lot of great riders and owners and athletes, and even people who are just in the community and read the [Facebook] post and want to help.
“I’m just so sorry for the loss of this great kid and for everybody who loved him,” continued Dover. “I’m committed to making what has been a terrible tragedy at least have something impactful that’s positive come out of it.”