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A lesson that will linger: Staged crash teaches life lessons

Echo Press photo by Lowell Anderson Students peered into a car that was displayed as part of a mock crash Friday.1 / 4
Echo Press photo by Lowell Anderson Students watched as the aftermath of a car crash unfolded before their eyes.2 / 4
Echo Press photo by student intern Connor Blacksher One of the student actors pounded for help on the window of her damaged vehicle.3 / 4
Echo Press photo by Lowell Anderson Law enforcement personnel covered a victim in Friday's mock crash.4 / 4

A two-car crash on Friday afternoon left one Alexandria teen dead and an Alexandria mother severely injured.

Four other teenagers and a 4th grader, all from Alexandria, were also injured in the crash.

Luckily, all of the parties involved in the crash were only actors who were taking part in the annual mock car crash at Jefferson High School.

The crash, which focused on distracted driving, was put on by the Douglas County Safe Communities Coalition, along with Douglas County Public Health, the Alexandria Police Department, Douglas County Sheriff's Office, North Ambulance and North Air Care, Alexandria Fire Department, Alexandria Technical College, Jefferson High School and Budget Auto.

The reason for the crash, according to Crystal Hoepner from the Safe Communities Coalition, is because traffic crashes are the leading killer of Minnesota teens, primarily due to inexperience, risk-taking behind the wheel, speeding and distracted driving.

In addition, teens have the lowest seat belt use rate of all age groups. From 2006 to 2008, four teens - ages 16-19 - were killed and three were seriously injured on Douglas County roadways, noted Hoepner.

The goal of the Douglas County Safe Communities Coalition initiative brings area law enforcement, public health educators, engineers and emergency services together in an effort to reduce the number of traffic fatalities and severe injuries in Douglas County, according to Hoepner.

Alexandria Police Captain Scott Kent, who is a member of the Safe Communities Coalition, noted that 10th grade students at Jefferson witnessed the mock crash, which included a video presentation and then a simulated crash where students played the parts of the teenage driver and four passengers, along with Hoepner who played the part of the mother, and Jackson Grove, who played the part of her son.

Students first watched a video in the gymnasium, which set up the scene that was displayed outside. The video showed the students in a car, messing around, going through a drive-thru, talking and texting on their phones. At one point, one of the passengers takes off her seat belt. Shortly after, the driver, who was texting on her cell phone, loses control and hits a van head on.

The teenager who had taken off her seat belt is the one who died.

Inside the van were the mother and her son, who is a 4th grader. The mother is basically paralyzed and has to spend the rest of her life living in a nursing home. Her son only received minor injuries.

The video stopped at the moment of impact and the kids were then brought outside to the back of the school, where they watched the scene unfold before them. Law enforcement officials arrived on the scene, as well as the fire department and ambulance crews. In addition, an emergency helicopter landed at the scene because of the severe injuries.

During the video and the mock scene outside the school, Kent said the students were respectful and he feels it made an impact.

After the students witnessed what happens at the scene of a crash, the actors stood before the crowd and talked about how their lives changed after being involved in the accident.

For example, Kent said that one of the students, who pretended to be seriously injured as a result of the crash, talked about how she had plans to attend college, but that because of the extent of her medical bills, couldn't afford to go to college anymore.

The students all read from a script that was prepared for them. This is the first time during the mock crash that the after effects were talked about, which Kent thought was even more impactful.