It is a far too plausible scenario.
A vehicle full of teenagers, all chatting away, having a good time.
One of the passengers tells the driver to put away her cell phone and quit texting while she is driving.
“Oh, I do this all the time,” she replies breezily.
Abruptly, there is a screeching of tires, a grinding of metal, a crashing of glass and agonized screams.
One of the teens, who was not wearing a seat belt, is launched through the front windshield, slamming to the pavement with a sickening thump.
From the back seat come horrified screams of pain.
Miraculously, the driver who was wearing her belt escapes uninjured except for a few cuts and scrapes, saved by her belts and the vehicle’s airbag.
Dazed, she emerges from the wrecked vehicle and sees her friend lying unmoving and bleeding on the pavement, hears the cries of excruciating pain from the back seat of her vehicle.
“Somebody help!” she cries. “Somebody please call 911!”
It is a horrific series of events, but fortunately for all concerned, on Wednesday, the accident was a mock exercise into what could happen from a moment of careless inattention caused by texting while driving.
The event was played out before the sophomore and junior classes of Washburn High School, a training exercise involving members of the Washburn Fire and Ambulance Services, Bayfield County Health Department, the LifeLink III Helicopter, Bratley Funeral Home, the Washburn Police Department, and the Wisconsin State Patrol, as well as students and staff from Washburn High School.
According to Bayfield County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Dan Clark, the idea for a mock accident demonstration came about a number of years ago when several youths were killed in traffic accidents.
“At the time, District Attorney Craig Haukaas was very frustrated and said ‘We’ve had enough,’” he said. “Starting from that statement, he organized a number of groups in the county to see how we could address drunk driving, drugged driving and distracted driving accidents.”
A committee, named the “Have you Had Enough?” group was formed, partnering with the Red Cliff Drug and Alcohol Abuse Committee to try and figure out ways to set up public awareness events and to drive home the lessons about the consequences of danger-fraught driving behaviors.
“Last year we started with the Bayfield School, and we did this same kind of thing, a mock accident, and we plan on doing this at every high school in the county,” Clark said. “Next year it will be either South Shore or Drummond, if they will have us.”
This year’s edition of the mock accident was, if anything, more intense.
“We had a mother show up on the accident scene, we had some very good students who participated very well,” he said.
That is, if anything an understatement.
The blood-curdling cries of pain, the mother’s anguish, when she was told that her son did not survive the accident, held the audience of students speechless as they watched the scenario unfold from a slight rise overlooking the parking lot at the Washburn Middle School.
One of the actions with the most impact on the students was when the driver, who survived the crash with just minor injuries was arrested and led away in handcuffs.
“Dude, they arrested her!” exclaimed one student, as they also watched the deceased victim covered with a blanket and put in a hearse.
“It’s vehicular manslaughter,” said another onlooker.
Clark said the idea was to make a strong impression on the students about the potential consequences of even a momentary bad choice.
“That’s the idea,” Clark said. “We chose the distracted driving issue because not every student drives under the influence of something, but virtually every student has a cell phone. Distracted driving is a real, real problem.”
It was a concept that the students who played the part of victims in the tableau were hopeful was passed on to their peers.
Beth Kurtz, a senior at Washburn High School, served as the narrator, describing in graphic detail the injuries suffered by the victims and the long-lasting consequences of that one tragic moment.
“It was pretty intense, because I had to react to what was going on, because obviously we couldn’t have a rehearsal, and I didn’t really know what was going to happen,” she said.
Kurtz said the message of the exercise was that texting and driving was not a joke.
“Teens need to take it more seriously,” she said. “We are just trying to get everyone to be safe. The message is very clear, and we hope it impacted everyone.”
For the two back-seat victims, the experience resulted in nothing more serious than slightly sore throats from screaming in simulated pain. But they said the point was a crucial one.
“Never text and drive, girl!” said Olivia Hickman to fellow victim Marynn Vrehm, the driver in the scenario.
“I’ve had a lot of friends who have actually been in car accidents,” said Vrehm. “Luckily, none of them fatal.
“This has really given me a new perspective on how serious texting and driving can be. The message is, absolutely do not be distracted when you drive. If you are with a bunch of people, let them know that driving is a serious business. You need to be safe.”
Rick Olivo can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org