Shelly and Troy Fuller of Evansville were asked to do a task no parents should ever have to do. They had to write an obituary for their teenage son.
Fortunately for the Fullers, the obituary - although filled with real information - was fake. They wrote it because their 15-year-old son, Titus, portrayed a fatal crash victim in a simulation for Brandon-Evansville high schoolers last Friday, May 17.
"It was hard," said Troy Fuller.
Titus and his 17-year-old brother, Sam, took part in the mock fatal car crash, along with three other Brandon-Evansville students - Kerryn Lund, Sara Jacobson and Bailey Schaefer.
The scenario played out in a video the high school students watched in the gymnasium, and ended with two vehicles colliding because Lund reached for her cell phone to send a text message to a friend. After watching the video, the students in grades 10-12 went outside and watched the aftermath play out as if the crash were real.
The students listened to the 911 call. They heard the sirens coming closer as the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Brandon and Evansville fire departments and first responders, and North Memorial Ambulance were summoned to the scene.
They shielded their faces from the whirling dust as the LifeLink III helicopter landed on the baseball field to transport one of their classmates who was unconscious due to major head trauma and brain injury.
And they watched as Titus lay lifeless on the ground in front of them. He died from the crash.
The students were not the only ones watching. So were Shelly and Troy Fuller, who have had two family members recently die as a result of car crashes.
"This was all too realistic," said Troy, visibly shaken up from what he had witnessed. "To walk out and see and hear all of this, it was definitely emotional."
His wife shook her head in agreement, saying it was "so hard."
The Fullers, who both kept looking at their two sons standing in front of them, said it was almost too difficult to talk about it.
Titus said it was uncomfortable playing the part of someone who had died. But he believes the whole experience provided a good message for students.
When Sam saw his brother on the ground and listened to his obituary being read, "I felt myself tearing up even though I knew it wasn't real," he said. "It was just so sad."
The Fullers were more than happy to be able to hug both sons when it was all over.
Summer deadliest for teenage drivers
Unfortunately, this is not always the case for family members whose loved ones are involved in a car crash.
Scott Johnson, manager of North Memorial Ambulance Service in Alexandria, told students that as of May 17, 102 people had already lost their lives this year on Minnesota roads due to distracted driving, no seat belts, speeding and drunk driving. Texting while driving kills 11 teenagers every day in the U.S.
For teenage drivers, the deadliest time is from June-August, he said. Each year in Minnesota, distracted driving is a factor in one of every four crashes, resulting in at least 70 deaths and 350 serious injuries. He told the students that texting takes their eyes off the road for about five seconds. At 55 miles per hour, it's like driving the length of a football field blindfolded.
For more than 20 years, Johnson has participated in the simulated crashes at area high schools.
"It seems to get more emotional each year," he said. "I can see my own kids in the students."
Johnson hopes that showing students in a realistic way what can happen will leave a mark on them. He hopes that the scene, played out as realistically as possible, sticks in their minds and plays over and over again.
"What you have seen has been a crash reenactment, but this type of situation is not uncommon," he told the students. "In fact, it has happened in this community and it can happen to you, your friends or your family. Pay attention to the task at hand, which is to just drive."
Think about every action
Dustin Alexander has been at the scene of many crashes. As a Douglas County deputy, he is often the first to arrive.
"I've been at way too many fatal crashes and I remember every single one of them," he told the students. "It never goes away. I would hate to have to be the one to tell your folks you died."
He asked the students to take what they were witnessing seriously.
"This could be you," Alexander said. "All it takes is one simple bad choice. Texting doesn't seem like that big of a deal. What's so bad about taking those five seconds? But that's all it takes. Five seconds."
Think about the consequences, he said, and how they would always be known as "the kid in the crash."
After the simulation, Alexander addressed the students again. What happens after a crash impacts a whole community, he told them. Having to do a death notification is one of the worst parts of his job.
"This is fake blood," Alexander said, displaying his hands. "I can't tell you how many times I've had real blood on my hands. The screams from victims, they never go away. All of it stays with you. Remember that what you do affects more than just you."