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Deadly cheer

TEN-MONTH-OLD Ronny Jr. will spend his first Christmas without his parents next week - and every Christmas after that. The National Commission on Drunk Driving reports that the number of alcohol-related deaths has decreased the past five years, from over 25,000 in 1982 to under 24,000 last year, owing to stronger legislation and changing public attitudes.

Statistically, although the overall decline in drunken-driving fatalities is appreciated, a thousand fewer deaths a year is a minimal gain against the continuing death totals. And young-driver fatalities are still on the rise.

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Ronny's parents, a Cape Cod couple, were under 20.

Most of their Christmases had lain ahead of them, too.

Friends had alerted the police that the couple were in no shape to drive. The police said high speed and alcohol got to them before they could.

These are needless family tragedies. Sadly, they can't come as a surprise when hosts and merrymakers, at holiday time, try to boost spirits with deadly cheer.