WINAMAC, Ind. — Lights flashed and sirens blared as police cars, fire trucks and ambulances rushed to Winamac High School in northern Indiana Friday afternoon.
As students filed out of the school to the back parking lot, they saw several of their peers involved in what appeared to be a two-vehicle crash. One boy hung out the back window. Another lay on the pavement, a pool of blood by his face. Beer cans littered the ground.
The school’s chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions, or SADD, surprised the student body with a mock fatal crash. They worked with local police, fire, medics, the coroner and a Samaritan helicopter to simulate what could happen at the scene of a fatal drunken driving crash — as well as the immediate and long-lasting consequences.
Many similar demonstrations are taking place across the country this month, with prom season reaching its height. The intent is to heighten awareness of the dangers teens can face on prom night. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about one-third of all alcohol-related fatalities involving teens each year take place from April through June — the height of prom and graduation season. The agency estimates nearly 1,000 teens die each year while celebrating high school proms and graduations.
At Winamac High School, several students portrayed occupants in the simulated crash, some injured, others under the influence of alcohol and two who died. Hollie Parish, a junior, played one of the injured. She said being involved in the mock crash showed her how one bad decision could lead to a deadly situation.
“It really brought the experience to my eyes, like, wow, this could actually be happening," she said. "I could have been with my friends with they died.”
With the school’s prom happening this weekend, students in SADD wanted to remind their peers of the dangers of driving under the influence, said Laura Fred-Smith, the group's adviser. They said some students think drinking and driving isn't a big deal.
Doug Mullens, a senior, portrayed one of the two students who died in the mock crash. He said high schoolers take a lot for granted in life, especially when it comes to drinking. Mullens said some of his peers drink at parties and get arrested, not understanding the issues that can arise.
“I could even see, just laying out there, that some people took it really seriously and some were laughing it off because they knew it was fake," he said about the mock crash. "But, they don’t know the severity of everything and that things like this actually happen.”
From 2003 to 2012, the Centers of Disease Control reported that 2,210 people were killed in crashes involving a drunken driver in Indiana. And about one in three traffic deaths in the United States involve a drunken driver.
When first responders arrived on scene to the simulated crash, medics started treating the passengers, while firefighters used a Jaws of Life device to cut away at the car and get to those inside. Police officers gave field sobriety tests to the two "drunken" drivers.
Senior Danyelle Weaver was one of the main organizers of the mock crash. Her father, uncle and brother are all firefighters in Winamac, so she's well aware of what police, fire and medical personnel have to do day in, day out. Reis Sutton, a sophomore, said the simulation showed how fast first responders have to act at crashes and how much they care about people involved.
“It can happen any time, and no matter what, they’ll still show up," Sutton told the Logansport, Indiana Pharos-Tribune.
After the mock crash, students went to the school's gymnasium for a presentation from Indiana State Police and SADD about not just drinking and driving, but texting and driving.
“I just hope it impacts at least just one life out of all this," Weaver said.
Middelkamp writes for the Logansport, Indiana Pharos-Tribune.