A chilling 'what if': Mock crash sends sobering message
If you know what this means, members of the Douglas County Safe Communities Coalition and members of law enforcement have a message for you:
"WAN 2 TXT? PULL OVA."
On Tuesday, sophomore students from Jefferson High School (JHS) in Alexandria, along with high school students from both Brandon and Evansville School Districts, witnessed what can happen when drivers are distracted because they are text messaging on their cell phones and when people aren't buckled up.
The Douglas County Safe Communities Coalition, along with several agencies, hosted a mock car crash at JHS on Tuesday afternoon, complete with two crashed up vehicles and student actors made up to look like accident victims.
The scene was all too familiar for law enforcement and rescue personnel, and one that the coalition hopes will make an impact on students.
The goal of the mock crash, according to Crystal Hoepner with the coalition, was to offer a dramatic illustration of what can happen as a result of distracted driving and not wearing a seat belt.
The scenario was as follows:
It's Friday, May 22 and JHS students just got out of school. Six friends pile into a car with all but one student - Matt, a 10th grader - buckling up. The reason Matt didn't buckle up is because he is sitting on the laps of his friends in the back seat.
The driver of the car, Joe, backs out and heads to the student parking lot exit, attempting to pull out and make a left turn on Jefferson Street. The teens, including Joe the driver, are text messaging and making their weekend plans. No one is paying attention.
A few blocks down from the school, a mom has just picked up her elementary-aged son from day care and is heading home. As she starts driving onto Jefferson Street, which runs directly in front of the school, the car filled with teenagers hits her van, seriously injuring her young son.
The mom rushes out of her van screaming for her son. Joe, the driver of the car, gets out and walks around, dazed and confused.
You could hear sirens from squad cars and ambulances wailing in the distance, their sounds getting louder and louder.
The fire department is also dispatched to the scene because a front seat passenger in the car needs to be extricated.
Lastly, the medical examiner is summoned to the scene. Matt, the 10th grade student, is pronounced dead.
At the end of the scenario, students listened as two police officers made their way to deliver a death notification to Matt's parents.
The officers talked about how hard it is to deliver such tragic news and that it's probably the worst part of their job.
Speaking to each other, one of the officers said, "You probably agree with me how difficult it is to go through the pain and tragedy with these families. We deliver the message and then we have to watch them [the family] suffer each and every time."
The other officer said, "My heart breaks every time as I watch their whole world collapse around them. I wish we didn't have to do this."
Hoepner noted that although the scenario was just a drill, the reality is that something like it could happen - to anyone, anywhere, at any time.
She explained that the coalition's hope was that the event would help influence students into making better decisions when they get into a vehicle - decisions that involve buckling up and not using their cell phones.
"If we can keep just one teen from a dangerous car crash, it's all worth it. That's what we hoped to accomplish," she added. "To us, it was well worth all the resources and time that was put into a drill like this."
For Tuesday's mock crash, Hoepner made note of all the agencies or people involved in putting it together, including the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Alexandria Police Department, North Ambulance, Alexandria Fire Department, Douglas County Public Health, Alexandria Technical College, Budget Auto, students and staff from JHS, Joe Korkowski from KXRA (the emcee) and Mike Scarborough (a local insurance agent).
Scarborough spoke to the large crowd of students during the event. He told them that in the 27 years he has been in the insurance business, he has had to deal with numerous car crashes, several of them fatalities, some of them students.
"It's tough to go through," Scarborough told the students. "There is no cell phone call that is that important or text message that you will even remember if you end up hitting someone else while driving."
He also noted that he's lost some kids he knows in fatal car crashes and that, "It's no fun standing by a casket with the mom and dad right there."
While serving as the emcee during the event, Korkowski told the students, "We want your teen years to be good memories, not bad. And we want you to arrive alive to your destinations."
What seemed like mixed up letters at the beginning of this article, was a text message conversation between two teenagers. This is what was actually being said:
"Not too much."
"How about you?"
"Not much here."
"Want to talk?"
"Sorry, I got to run."
"Bye for now."