The message Wednesday morning came across loud and clear: Put down your phone when you drive.
Alexandria Area High School was once again the site of a mock car crash showing the graphic consequences of what can happen from distracted driving.
Students watched as two cars, both with teenager actors inside, collide.
The high schoolers witnessed the actors covered in blood; firefighters using the jaws of life to cut a victim out of the car; a LifeLink III helicopter landing in the field to take a victim to the hospital; and the driver, who was on her cell phone, being taken away in handcuffs. As the body of one crash victim was being put into the back of a hearse, her grandpa read her obituary.
The goal of the mock car crash each year is to raise awareness about distracted driving and the importance of wearing a seat belt. Douglas County Safe Communities Coalition, which sponsors the event each year, wants to send a sobering message to students.
After the crash scene, several key players spoke to the students including Alexandria Fire Chief Jeff Karrow, Alexandria Police Officer Jim Gripne, North Ambulance EMT Reggie Habberstad, registered nurse Lori Rosch and Douglas County Hospital emergency room director Craig Buysse, who is also a licensed funeral director with Anderson Funeral Home, and assistant AAHA principal Troy Wunderlich.
Karrow said that in the past year, the Alexandria Fire Department has had to use the jaws of life 29 times to cut victims out of cars involved in crashes. Firefighters sometimes need counseling for the gruesome scenes they witness, he told students, adding that people need to realize that every decision has a consequence.
Wunderlich said crashes involving students, especially when they die, has kept him up at night. He urged students to remember the simulated crash and think about who it will affect. The impact is bigger than they realize, he said.
Buysse reminded students that parents who lose children because of distracted driving never get to see them graduate from high school, never get to see them go to college, never get to go to their wedding. Those parents might see their child's friends doing such activities and suffer because their own child never will.
"It impacts and affects everyone," he said. "Because of one careless act, so many people are impacted."
As a funeral director, Buysse said he tries to provide stability and calmness at a chaotic time. It can be hard, he said.
"Put the phone down," he urged the students. "Put it on silent and put it away so you're not distracted."