Mock accident starts sobering prom week

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— The crash at the James Brown Bridge Monday evening was staged. No one was injured, no one died.

If it had been real, five Steamboat Springs High School students would have died, becoming teen alcohol-related accident statistics.

The teens -- who are dancers, basketball players, volleyball players, student leaders -- would have been mourned by their families and friends, their teachers and fellow students. The community would have grieved for five of their own.

"For a community this size, that's something you don't recover from for a long time," Steamboat Springs Police Department school resource officer Jerry Stabile said.

This accident was set up as part of Sober Prom 2000, as a shocking way to show students why they should not drink and drive during prom, which is Saturday, or anytime. The message is making positive choices, according to teacher Lucianne Myhre.

"It's better to do it this way than to have five kids die," said Lisel Thompson, one of the mock victims.

The accident is not just about death; it is about the consequences: the pain and grieving that happens afterward and the realization of what lives lost could have been.

"It makes you realize how much you have going for you and what you have to look forward to," victim Dustin Lindahl said.

All of the victims had to write letters expressing their final thoughts, he said.

The accident scene is lifelike, with emergency personnel swarming and cars slowing to see what happened.

In the staged scenario, five teens, Thompson, Lindahl, David Marsh, Joleen Fuller and Mallory Reust, are on Twentymile Road and are trying to turn at the James Brown Bridge. The driver is going too fast, fails to make the turn and flips over the median, rolling down the hill. Four of the passengers are ejected before the car lands next to the railroad tracks. One student is still in the car, where there are also some beer cans.

Four of the students are dead and one is still alive. He is propelled in a basket by the Steamboat Springs Fire Department to the bridge, although he, too, dies on the way to the hospital.

It is a chilling scene, with the Steamboat Springs Fire Department, Routt County Sheriff and Colorado State Patrol present. Like at any other accident scene, coroner Doug Allen and Mike Peterson of Peterson's Funeral stand by until they are needed.

In this case, autopsies and toxicology reports would have been done on all the students, who would have died of massive head and body trauma, according to Stabile.

While the accident was being staged, the victims' friends were at the high school making memorials to them that will be set up in the high school commons area Tuesday morning. The five students will not be at school, but Director of Public Safety Services J.D. Hays taped a video notification that five students were killed, which will be marked as a dramatization. Other students won't know about the crash until this morning.

"I think it's going to be a tough morning when they see the memorials," Jacqui Campbell of the fire department said.

Parents have also taped memorials about their children which will be presented along with footage of the accident at an assembly on Friday. Parents and community members will tell stories of their personal experiences with alcohol-related deaths.

The five students and 10 of their friends have spent the day prepping for this week. For three hours, Pastor Tim Cartwright of the Lutheran Church asked the kids some tough questions, such as whether they have lost someone close to them. He gave them sobering statistics on substance abuse in the United States and had a small, child-sized casket in the room.

"It's a vivid image when you deal with the fact that five of you today are going through a circumstance making you realize these things are really real," he said to the riveted group of students.

District Health Coordinator Joan Allsberry said that there was some question that this was too traumatizing or too dramatic for the students, but scenarios like this have the most impact. Two years ago, another accident was staged and every 15 minutes a student was pulled from class by the grim reaper, signifying his or her death.

"The 'grim reaper' really had an impact," Allsberry said. "They always talk about 'Every 15 Minutes.'"

The students agreed that "Every 15 Minutes" did have an impact, compared to last year's presentation of a speaker and a video, which was interesting, but not influential.

"Knowing it's your friend or could have been your friend makes it a lot harder than hearing about some kid in California," said student Zach Davis, who was making a memorial for Lindahl.

In fact, Myhre said that a student survey after prom two years ago confirmed that it made a difference.

"They have to experience those dramatic feelings," Campbell said. "Until they feel it emotionally, until they've experienced it, I don't think they're convinced."

There will be emotion, the students said, and there was already emotion Monday as the students made memorials to their friends and wrote them letters.

The students said that drinking and driving is not a big problem here and that most are fairly responsible about taking keys away when someone shouldn't get behind the wheel. The timing is good, however, because of prom and graduation.

"They might be smarter," Marsh said about choices on prom night. "They might think twice about they do."


-- To reach Jennifer Bartlett call 871-4204 or e-mail jbartlett@amigo.net

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