Mock crash shows students potential consequences of distracted driving

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Mother Michele Berger is restrained by EMTs as “death” takes her son Michael during the Every 15 Minutes Mock Crash held at MFL MarMac High School on April 20. The event was meant to show students the potential consequences of distracted driving. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

The day began with the mock crash, a fake head-on collision on Davis Street in Monona, near the school parking lot. Students watched as some of their classmates, bloodied and broken, were extracted from the two vehicles by firefighters and EMTs.

Following the mock crash, “death” went around to different classrooms and took one student, like Derek Larson, every 15 minutes for several hours. Each student’s obituary was then read over the intercom.

Senior Hunter Fletcher played the teenage driver responsible for the crash and the deaths of his classmates. “The consequences are not worth it,” he told those gathered at an assembly.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

On April 20, local law enforcement, rescue squads, firefighters and other volunteers presented the Every 15 Minutes Mock Crash, showing MFL MarMac high school students the potential consequences of distracted driving, whether it be texting and driving or drinking and driving.

The day began with the mock crash, a fake head-on collision on Davis Street in Monona, near the school parking lot. Students watched as some of their classmates, bloodied and broken, were extracted from the two vehicles by firefighters and EMTs. Some of the parents of the students involved in the accident were on-scene, sending up blood-curdling screams and trying to evade restraints as they witnessed emergency responders lay white sheets over their “dead” children and load the bodies into ambulances.

Following the accident, as students settled back into their routines, “death” went around to different classrooms and took one student every 15 minutes for several hours. Each student’s obituary was then read over the intercom.

The exercise was meant to demonstrate that, “Every 15 minutes, a teen dies in an automobile accident, nationwide, due to distracted driving,” explained Tim Engelhardt, a deputy with the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office, who was one of several speakers at an assembly that afternoon. “That’s 96 in 24 hours.”

That’s roughly the amount of two grade levels of MFL MarMac students each day, he said, adding, “If we started this yesterday, juniors and seniors, your classes would be gone.”

“This is a reality,” noted Joshua Grau, with Grau Funeral Homes, who also spoke at the assembly. “We might not see it every day here, but it’s something I see year-to-year in the communities we serve.”

Engelhardt warned students against texting and driving, mentioning that a person’s brain cannot function doing the two simultaneously.

“It’s not possible,” he said. “We all want that instant communication, but you need to stop, pull over or leave your phone alone.”

Organizer Mary Bissell told students it’s not OK and it’s not cool to text and drive, drink and drive or do drugs and drive, because the consequences of those choices are not cool.

“It’s not cool to pull your body out of a ditch at 2 a.m. It’s not cool to tell your parents you were killed,” she remarked. “I’ve had to hold parents back in real life.”

Speakers at the assembly, many of whom shared personal experiences with distracted driving incidents, stressed the importance of making good decisions and questioning bad situations.

“If it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right,” Grau said. “Question yourself a second or third time because it doesn’t just affect you.”

“I challenge you all to take responsibility for yourself and each other,” Engelhardt stated. 

Clayton County Attorney Alan Heavens said there are consequences in regard to the law, as well. A first offense operating while intoxicated (OWI) could result in a $1,250 minimum fine, two days to one year in jail (depending on blood alcohol level) and a loss of driver’s license for 180 days. For a second offense, the penalty increases to a $1,875 minimum fine and seven days to two years in jail. A third offense is a class D felony and could bring a $3,125 minimum fine, 30 days to five years incarceration and losing a driver’s license for six years. Vehicular homicide—killing someone—means a class C felony and up to 10 years or more in prison, or a class B felony and 25 years in prison, Heavens said.

“There’s no fine for that because you have to pay an automatic $150,000 civil penalty to the family of the victim,” he said. “There are very serious penalties for drinking and driving and texting and driving, so stay out of those situations.”

Bissell said the group of volunteers who organized the mock crash began planning a year ago, sending out 70-some letters to parents, asking if they would allow their kids to participate. At the end, 24 students were used, she said. The students were not told they were going to be used; it was all a surprise. 

Parent Jennifer Schutte said she found out in the fall the mock crash was going to happen, and her first reaction was to allow participation.

“Then I had to write an obituary and letter to my child. That made the whole thing real,” she explained. “I knew today was happening and I had to hide this. It’s hard to keep a secret knowing they’re going through something emotional. This was as close to the death of a child I ever want to get.”

Bissell said the event was kept such a secret because losing the shock and awe would not be as beneficial. 

Indeed, the shock and awe impacted many of those who participated—tears were shed. It also brought home the consequences.

“The consequences are not worth it,” said student Hunter Fletcher, who played the teenage driver responsible for the crash and the deaths of his classmates. “It was really emotional seeing the lives it affects.”

“I knew it wasn’t real, but when I was in the ambulance, I felt like I was dead,” recalled student Anjela Waterman. “My ears were plugged and I couldn’t talk. All I could do was stare at the light above me.”

“When I had to lay on the cement with my mom screaming my name, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” admitted Michael Berger. “Please don’t do it.”

The emergency personnel were also affected by this experience, as well as the accidents they’ve assisted with over the years.

“It’s hard for us to deal with,” noted Monona Police Chief Jo Amsden. “These kids are my kids too.”

“Any time the pager goes off, we always think, ‘Who is it?’” said Monona firefighter Jeremy Schellhorn. “We don’t just leave it. We think about it years later.”

Bissell said some people may be upset with the mock crash, but it’s an important message that needs to get through to both teens and parents.

“We do this to make you think, not to upset you or make you cry,” she told those gathered at the assembly. “If it starts a conversation, then it’s worth it.”

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