NEW PARIS — Emergency sirens tore through the damp afternoon air. Young girls sobbed into tissues, and square-jawed young men choked back tears. Shattered glass sparkled along the ground as paramedics surveyed the wreckage, two crumpled cars smashed head to head — each with teenage victims inside. Helicopter blades thudded, scattering dirt and rippling clothing as CareFlight landed to assist.
A dazed teenager, bleeding from the head, wandered around the cars as the infamous “jaws of life” were employed to break the vehicles apart to reach the unconscious victims inside. Except, of course, for the one who lay on the hood of one car, halfway through the windshield. They simply put a sheet over her.
And then, a bloodcurdling scream. A woman ran up, her face streaked with grief.
“Is that my daughter?!” she howled.
This was the devastating scene played out with maximum commitment last Friday, April 29, when National Trail High School staged a mock drunk driving collision ahead of prom weekend in an effort to teach students the importance of safe driving.
A massive coordination between National Trail and local police, fire, EMS workers, and many more entities, the all-afternoon live lesson was presented behind the high school as students were advised of the many potential outcomes of partying without consequence.
As paramedics worked to extricate the victims from the cars and get them onto stretchers, the “drunk driver,” student Michael Bane, was given a field sobriety test by law enforcement, then arrested, loaded into a cruiser, and taken away. A victim was loaded into CareFlight, which then took to the air again. The county coroner arrived to inspect the body of the “deceased” student, Aleah Hunt, and she was put into a hearse and taken away as well.
The dramatic presentation didn’t end there. Students were then ushered into the gym/auditorium, where they filed past Hunt in a coffin and handed “funeral” pamphlets bearing the words “In loving memory,” her birth date, and the date of her “death”: April 29, 2016.
Though they knew it wasn’t real, many students wept as they passed. Still more couldn’t even bring themselves to look upon her.
It didn’t end there, either — in the gym, a mock trial was staged. Bane was led out in a prison jumpsuit, cuffed at the wrists and ankles, and seated next to a real defense attorney, opposite a county prosecutor, and before a local magistrate. He was tried and convicted for Hunt’s death. Again, though the trial wasn’t real, tears rolled down Bane’s cheeks as the judge weighed his actions.
National Trail Principal Robert Fischer was extremely proud of the day’s proceedings and the clear effect it had on students.
“It’s an enormous amount of planning, obviously, but we try to do this one time while each group of four classes is here in the school,” he said. “We coordinate with at least five or six organizations, between the court, the sheriff’s department, and so forth. Each time we do it, we have students thank us. I had several thank me today before it was even over. We hope that we sent the right message to the kids, and if it saves one person’s life, then we’ve done our job.”
Common pleas court magistrate Steven Bruns, who served as judge, said, “My role is reinforcing consequences. It’s just one more aspect. It’s not just the red oscillating lights and body bags.”
Defense attorney Melissa Duke Jones agreed. “As a mother, particularly a mother who has two kids here at National Trail, I wanted them to see the full conclusion. He’s going to lose the ability to graduate and go off to college and do the things his classmates will do. The last thing that happens in this process is this guy goes to prison.”
The emotional climax of the event was delivered by Laura Seger, a Miami County resident who lost her son, Joey, in a 2010 head-on collision caused by an intoxicated driver. The accident also broke Joey’s father’s neck. Joey was just shy of his 20th birthday. Three months later, the driver who caused the accident died in another wreck while intoxicated again.
“If you’re out and about and doing things you shouldn’t, like drinking,” said Seger, “call someoen to come and get you before you dare get behind the wheel of that car. Are we gonna be upset? Yeah, maybe. But don’t drive. Don’t let your friends drink and drive, either. Take their keys. If they get made at you, at least they’ll be around tomorrow to thank you.”
Seger travels around the state and beyond telling Joey’s story with the Drive Smart program. She estimates she gives this speech two dozen times a year.
“If I can save one kid from making a mistake, one parent from suffering like I do, then Joey didn’t die for nothing,” she said.
“I am now receiving invitations to weddings and baby showers for the kids who grew up with Joey,” Seger said, wiping tears away. “I can’t go. I can’t go to any of them. When I go to a wedding and see a mother dancing with her son, I grieve all over again.
“My Joey was an incredible young man,” she said, “and not just because he was mine. I’ll be a grieving mother until the day I die.”
At that moment, a girl of about five feet came up and asked if she could hug Seger.
“Of course, honey,” Seger said.
“I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your story,” the girl said. “I’ll be thinking about it when I drive.”
“See,” Seger said. “There’s one.”
Glancing heavenward, she smiled.
Reach Duante Beddingfield at 937-683-4061, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @duanteb_RH.