“I only had one beer,” Jake told the police officer, his speech slurred and blood oozing from his lips and forehead as he slumped against his demolished Honda Civic.
Behind him, firefighters pried open the passenger side door of the car and emergency medical technicians worked to stabilize Jake’s girlfriend, wrapping a brace around her neck and strapping her onto the stretcher before wheeling her into the ambulance.
Two more passengers crawled bleeding and dazed from the back seat.
Sobbing, a black-eyed girl tried to tell officers what happened while emergency medical technicians pulled the body of a teen boy from the hood of the Toyota Camry into which Jake had crashed.
The horrific scene engendered genuine tears and disbelief from onlookers as it played out Sept. 26 on the east parking lot of Coon Rapids High School.
But the event itself was fabricated, staged during Homecoming week to provide a chilling insight to the dangers of drinking and driving.
“I hope this scene has opened your eyes to the reality of alcohol – I don’t want any of you to ever be involved in a scene like this,” Coon Rapids police detective and school liaison officer Brad Johnson said to students gathered to witness the mock crash.
“Take this scene with you for the rest of your lives and remember it.”
And it seems they will.
After seeing the mock crash, senior Kiana Pierson said, “It’s really hard to watch. We know these people … and when they put him in the bag – oh, no! That just really shook me up, gave me chills.”
Junior Derrick Wiberg called the crash “pretty horrifying” and said watching classmates playing the part of the victims made it even more difficult to watch.
“I know all of them, and I know they were just acting, but this can – this does – really happen. People my age drink and drive and people die,” Wiberg said.
The mock crash was meant to give students a realistic look at the results of bad choices.
As the police officer said to Jake during the mock crash scene, “Someone’s dead because of your decisions.”
The message hit home on another level when Assistant Principal Tyrone Kindle shared his real-life story of the impact of drunk driving.
“I want to talk to you about Labor Day,” Kindle said. “Fifty-two years ago my brother didn’t get to celebrate Labor Day. Everyone loves Labor Day, it’s the last holiday before school starts.
“But my brother was riding his bike over to grandma’s house and was hit and killed by a drunk driver. He didn’t get to have Labor Day. He didn’t get to go back to school.”
The pain is still so great that no one can even say his brother’s name to his mother because she breaks down, overwhelmed by grief when she hears it. according to Kindle.
“That was 52 years ago,” Kindle said. “The pain never ends. Now, I’m not going to ask you not to drink and drive. I’m going to beg you not to drink and drive.”
Alicia Kropelnicki, representing Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), also spoke to the assembled students, telling them how her fiance was killed by a drunk driver and describing how she and her fiance’s family had to make the decision to end life support because his injuries left him brain dead.
“No one should ever have to make that decision. No one should ever have to go through that,” Kropelnicki said.
“You have a chance to make good choices. You don’t have to have this,” she said, gesturing toward the crashed cars and broken, bloody students.
“Make good choices. Dream big. Love fiercely. Go forward and do amazing things,” Kropelnicki said.
Senior Nathan Bambenek, who “died” in the mock car crash, hopes the scene delivered a lasting message.
“Let us be an example for what you should never do. Never, ever drink and drive,” he said.
Kindle said that school administrators plan to stage the mock crash on a regular basis.
“We plan to do this every four years,” he said. “Last time we did this was in the spring four years ago, but we moved it to the fall (because) we hope it will stay with students all through the school year, rather than having them get out of school a couple of weeks later and then forget all about it.”
The Sept. 26 mock car crash was sponsored by Liberty Mutual Insurance Group and Coon Rapids High School Student Council.
Student actors were seniors Andrew Swaser, Tanner Liubakka, Natalie Schmitz, Nathan Bambenek and Lauren Beckman and junior Mycah Lerum.
Agencies participating include Coon Rapids High School, Coon Rapids Police Department, Coon Rapids Fire Department, North Memorial Hospitals and Clinics, the Anoka County Medical Examiner’s Office, Minnesota State Patrol and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD).
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]