WALLENPAUPACK - First responders presented Wallenpaupack Area High School students with a different lesson last week. A few weeks before their prom, the students witnessed a mock car crash, where a two-car accident resulted in multiple fatalities as a result of a well known student who had been drinking and driving.
The district’s SADD chapter (Students Against Destructive Decisions) hosted the event that happens every two years, before the yearly celebration. The club advisor, Jim Winagle said the demonstration allowed the students to see the “potential consequences” of their decisions.
Pennsylvania State Police, Tafton and Hawley Fire Departments, Life Flight and the Wayne County Coroner participated in the event, which made the demonstration both “impactful and memorable” for the students Winagle said.
There are 85 students freshman to seniors involved in the chapter that hosts multiple safety awareness programs throughout the academic year. While SADD used to stand for Students Against Drunk Driving, the reality Winagle who is a volunteer with Tafton, said there are “more destructive decisions” today, as there are more distractions in addition to alcohol.
The evening before the mock crash, volunteers from Tafton met with students who were participating in the demonstration, to show them how the program would run, as they used multiple tools to cut the cars apart.
Responders from the two fire departments alternate between who is dispatched first for each mock crash and this year, Hawley took the lead. After the coroner confirmed the fatalities, the victims were taken away in body bags. Observers of the demonstration, later walked by the caskets on their way back to class. The Chief of the Hawley Fire Department Scott Mead said seeing the students respond to the mock crash is “amazing,” because everyone knows the demonstration isn’t real, but it’s still moving enough that many tear up.
To show the students that anyone is capable of making bad decisions, Austin Gilpin who is a well known senior was chosen to be the drunk driver. Zach Kiesendahl who is a junior and the president of SADD, said Gilpin is a model student and if he were to drink and drive, it would be shocking. Prior to organizing the mock crash, Kiesendahl said he didn’t realize all who were involved in responding to accidents.
Gilpin, who has been a member of SADD through high school, said he decided to be the drunk driver because it was an opportunity to show other students “how not to act” on the night of prom and to “stay responsible.”
Senior Clare Little who called 911 during the demonstration, said participating was a “good experience” and something everyone could learn from, as there was an “inspiring message that drinking and driving is not safe.” Little, as well as a few other actors witnessed a mock crash their freshman year, but seeing one this year, she said was “scary” as she now realizes such accidents “could happen.” Little who cried, said the entire situation surprised her, when she made the call. Nothing, she felt could have prepared her for the scenario because it was about “being there and being in it” that was different than just talking about such situations.
Another senior and actor in the demonstration, Savannah Powell said she hoped students realize that the drunk driver isn’t the only person who could be affected by drinking and driving. Following the event, Powell was “overcome” with emotion, as the entire scenario was a lot with the first responders putting her on a backboard and although she knew it wasn’t real, it was still “insane.”
A senior who watched the presentation and appeared somber though the demonstration, Niazere Atkinson said the mock crash was “very serious” and a “little surreal” because while she knew everyone involved was safe, it was still “sad to see” as there was a lot of “emotion” and “intensity.”
After the scenario was over, Kiesendahl said the demonstration was “very hard to watch,” but he was grateful to the volunteers for showing the students what an accident would entail. Having watched his classmates, Kiesendahl didn’t see anyone laughing and that, showed the students were moved by the message.
During the mock crash, Pennsylvania State Trooper Joe Diehl gave Gilpin a breathalyzer test. Diehl too, said the students were responsive to the event, as there was “a lot of emotion.” From the mock crash, Diehl said it would be great if students were to realize that they should slow down because “dumb stuff” can be done, while people are sober. Of the crashes he responds too, Diehl estimates that 95 percent of the time people are sober, so the accidents are the result of “bad decisions.”
Also a senior, Cody Cunningham said the demonstration was “pretty sad” and he didn’t realize all who would respond to such situations. The message from the event was clear however, “don’t drink and drive.”