The previous New Year’s Eve in Laramie went down with zero DUIs, thanks in-part to Nicole Candelaria and Shane Swett — and they’re hoping to do it again this year as they organize a team of volunteers to offer free rides all around town.
As co-owners of A1 Recovery and Towing, they’ve been getting people home on New Year’s Eve since starting their business in 1997 — following the loss of Nicole’s younger brother, Cal Ray Candelaria, in a drunk driving incident several years before. Their efforts also honor the memory of Shane’s father, Nicholas Swett.
“It’s such an amazing feeling to get no DUIs in your community, especially with drinking the way it is today,” Swett said. “If we save one person that we can take off the ‘was going to die’ list, we’re way ahead.”
Swett and Candelaria urge New Year’s Eve revelers to take advantage of their annual free-ride service, operated by volunteers with private vehicles and employees from other local businesses Laramie GM and Cowboy Glass.
The two are especially proud to help their community during the University of Wyoming’s winter break — it’s something they can do for the permanent Laramie community as well as students, since the university’s Safe Ride service is on hiatus for the holidays.
“We do a lot of giving back all year long, but this is the one time where we can give back and it just means something,” Candelaria said.
Those hoping for a ride won’t be able to make reservations, but shouldn’t worry about getting stranded. With a wait time of about 10 minutes, Swett and Candelaria have previously handled nights of 300 calls and giving rides to 840 people.
“Call me when you’re ready, I’ll get you a ride,” Candelaria said.
DUI-free evenings don’t happen often, but they’ve come close on other nights. The year before last, only one DUI occurred involving a young woman.
“If she would have chosen not to drive, she would have been way better off because she almost hit the highway patrolman,” Swett said.
Candelaria said the nights go by without serious hitches — the only problems being people who start to get sick mid-ride or forget that they moved recently and live right next to the bar they were picked up from.
There was a bit of a scare on one occasion, when the team took a call from a young woman who was disoriented and nervous about a group of young men nearby. Calling in the other volunteers, Swett and Candelaria managed to figure out where she was — and that the men, being sure to give her space, were making calls of their own trying to get a ride for her.
The couple says they usually have 8-10 vehicles in action for New Year’s, with their home serving as the base of operations. Even though the team isn’t out celebrating, they have a good time of their own with food and games until the calls start rolling in.
“It literally happens so fast — one minute after New Year’s, the first call comes in,” Swett said. “Hopefully this year is another good zero-DUI year because it’s on a Tuesday. Not as many people are as pumped up to get hammered on a Tuesday.”
Swett and Candelaria aren’t worried about missing out on partying – they make time to enjoy themselves once their work is done.
“As far as us celebrating, it’s always after New Year’s,” Candelaria said. “We might go out on the 2nd — and then we just call the kids. Hey, you’re not done yet, come get mom and dad.”