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A chilling scene…
Although the dramatic wreck in front of the Ephrata High School was a rehearsed scenario, it was more than just that for the participants and students observing.
The scene represented a harsh reality that happens on a regular basis due to inhibited driving through alcohol, drugs or texting. In connection with the “Every 15 Minutes…” program, EHS with the help of many volunteers, enacts this vehicle crash.
“Every 15 Minutes…” is a national program designed to remind teenagers of drinking and driving, as well as texting and driving. The program gets its name from the statistic that every 15 minutes someone in the United States dies from an alcohol related traffic collision.
The simulated scene at EHS Thursday started with two smashed vehicles on the road and one girl’s apparently lifeless body lying on the street. Emergency Responders started arriving and removing students from vehicles. As soon as the door of one of the vehicles is opened, a beer bottle rolls out. It made a ringing sound as it hit the pavement and continued to roll unharmed down the street. Unharmed is not something that could be said for most of the characters in the crash. Two were carried away on stretchers while another, sitting injured on the sidewalk, watched the scene unfold. Not far from them stood a host of students with faces painted white. They represented people killed in previous crashes, who were pulled from their classrooms earlier, “Every 15 Minutes….” The one driver, relatively unharmed, was removed from the scene in handcuffs. Throughout all of this, the grim reaper stood unmoving observing the entire scene.
The scene is more than just a show, it is almost an experience. The participants remained in character throughout the dramatization, doing their part to add to the realistic atmosphere. One officer walked down the line of spectators telling them that he was sorry for their loss. It felt real even to some of the students who were a part of the program. Student Brooke Overly played a student who was killed in the wreck. As Stradling Funeral Homes came and took her body away, she had to remind herself that it was not real.
“I started freaking out a little bit. ‘It’s okay. This is fake. This is fake.’ I had to reassure myself,” said Overly.
The time targeted to combat drinking and driving and texting and driving did not stop with the morning crash scene. That evening, some students went on a retreat where they were given the chance to write letters to their parents from the perspective of a student who has died and is telling their parents the things they wished they had told them in life. Some of the letters were read at a special assembly the next morning that included guest speakers.
For School Resource Officer Pete Sheppard, one of the highlights of doing this program over the years was the moment when he saw a video taken of the mock crash that showed the emotions on spectators faces, including one with tears.
“You don’t really have a gauge if the kids are really receptive to it or if it’s just a joke. You don’t really know how the kids are reacting, but in that video, it really looked like the kids had got it,” explained Sheppard.
It is the desire of the participants that the simulated wreck will show students the reality of the dangers of drinking and driving and texting and driving.
“I really just wanted to help people share a story…to avoid this…I couldn’t even wish that on my biggest enemy,” said student participant Christopher Helock.
“They need to understand and respect driving is a huge responsibility. You’re driving a 2,000-pound vehicle and I just think sometimes they don’t understand the gravity of some of the decisions that they make,” said Sheppard.
Businesses who donated to the program were Berlanco Insurance, Royer’s Flowers, Chris’s pizza, Bright’s, Bella Luna, Giant, Weisers, Sharp Shopper. Individuals who donated water and/or snacks were Sherry Moyer, Jody Funk, Christine Hurst, Kristine Hemsley, Tracy Lagaza, and the Pool Moms. Local agencies who assisted in the mock crash include Ephrata Police, Ephrata Ambulance, Ephrata Medic, Lincoln, Pioneer, and Akron Fire companies, as well as Stradling Funeral homes. Sheppard also wanted to offer special thanks to speakers at the assembly on day two &tstr;Ryan Axe, Erica Sensenig, and Mike Wenger, as well as videographer Jared Yerger &tstr; and the EASD administration and staff for allowing them to put on the program.
Jacqueline Watson is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review.