More than 1,600 students at Mountain View High School remained in stunned silence last Thursday as they watched local firefighters, police officers and paramedics provide a strong sense of reality of how prom or graduation night fun can turn tragic.
In an effort to save teens’ lives, the Northwest Fire District and local law enforcement held a mock demonstration of the perils of impaired or distracted driving.
Students of the Mountain View School, Health and Medical Sciences Academy have been working to organize the educational event since October.
As students were shuffled into the football stadium stands, few knew what was hidden under the tarps on the field. Then, with a mock call to 9-1-1, the tarp was removed revealing a small-sized car smashed into a Toyota truck.
The call revealed multiple “deaths” and “injuries” as academy students laid on the ground and on top of vehicles with fake blood streaming. Nearby, survivors cried as they waited for emergency crews to arrive.
The dispatcher relayed over the loud speakers that the driver of the truck was suspected of drinking, while none of the teen girls destined for prom were wearing seatbelts.
With sirens blaring, firefighters arrived on scene with the jaws of life to remove the victims. Paramedics laid the injured on stretchers and soon the medical helicopter arrived on scene to take away those critically injured.
From the injuries to the legal ramifications, Adam Goldberg, captain of the Northwest Fire/Rescue District, explained to the students that an accident can have long-term effects on family, friends and lives.
Doug Wilson, superintendent of the Marana School District, watched quietly with the students, noting that while Thursday’s accident may have been acting, too often tragedies involving teenagers happen in real life.
Not wanting to be the superintendent who has the conversation with parents of a teenager who has been critically injured, or even killed in an accident, Wilson said students must face reality.
“We have lost a number of students throughout the years in this district,” he said. “I like looking up with 1,600 students sitting up there, and it is so quiet you could hear a pin drop. If today’s event helps to save even one life or prevents even one injury then we did our job. These activities are critical in raising awareness.”
The students working months to organize the mock accident were equally pleased with the results, but were also just as affected as the students in the audience.
Senior Danielle Oxnam played the role of one of the deceased, laying in a prom dress on top of the car throughout the hour-long presentation.
“I think what we did here today will have a big impact on the students,” she said. “A lot of kids don’t see the full extent of their actions and what can happen. Even when you are not driving impaired, I realized you could be hurt if you don’t wear a seatbelt. Seatbelts can save lives even in a minor accident.”
Junior Tayler Jondall played one of the survivors who had to sit by helpless while her friends were taken away by ambulance.
“I ride in cars where I see people next to me driving and texting,” she said. “I will just think of this car crash, a crash where you will lose family and friends just like that. I may have played the grieving friend, but it is just another layer that shows I wasn’t hurt physically, but I will always suffer the effects emotionally.”
Many in the Mountain View student body did get the message, including junior Zoey Greer.
“It was really scary. I wish more kids would take it seriously,” she said. “I mean how many times do they have to see this happen before they realize the skin on their backs isn’t going to save them?”
School counselor Stacey Hackett said she couldn’t have asked for more from the student body.
“When you looked back at the audience and the kids were so engaged, it meant they were getting the message,” she said. “Even though it was a simulation, the actions here made it seem real for kids. Sometimes the media and Hollywood make something look more like a fantasy. Nothing about today, or this really happening, is a fantasy. Today was truly realistic, and I hope eye-opening, for these students.”
After the injured were taken care of, Goldberg said it wasn’t the end. The police still had to investigate, and there had to be consequence.
The driver of the truck was taken away in handcuffs, being charged with driving under the influence.
An appearance by local mom Jen Griner re-enforced the message to not drive while under of the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Last year Griner said she and her husband got the call at 2:38 in the morning that every parent dreads. Her son, then a senior, had been out drinking and decided to drive. He was arrested, charged as an adult, and spent nine months going through the court system, Mrs. Griner said. The family paid thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees, and her son is now on supervised probation.
Griner told the students the grad night parties hosted by local high schools are a “safe alternative” for parents, but for students they provide opportunities to party while having fun and being safe.