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CK mock crash a sobering experience

 A Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue firefighter tends to the “injuries” of Melanie Simms while Michael Dorsey comforts her. Simms and Dorsey were actors in Tuesday’s Central Kitsap High School mock crash.  - Photo by Jesse Beals
A Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue firefighter tends to the “injuries” of Melanie Simms while Michael Dorsey comforts her. Simms and Dorsey were actors in Tuesday’s Central Kitsap High School mock crash.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

Students watched in silence Tuesday morning as the screams of seven of their peers pierced the air.

The two cars on the scene were mangled and there was one fatality. Screeches of sirens from Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue, Washington State Trooper and sheriff’s deputy vehicles grew louder as they arrived at the crash site.

This was no ordinary drunk driving car accident.

Only 15 minutes prior to Central Kitsap High School seniors crowding the stands, the seven bloodied victims had help from firefighters and deputies setting the scene for the mock crash.

After staging the “crashed” Ford sedan against a dented Mazda pickup and placing the victims inside and around the scene, blue tarps covered the reenactment.

The seven student actors, all seniors dressed in elegant prom gowns and tuxes, assumed the roles of the injured drivers and passengers. With the school’s senior prom commencing tonight, the purpose of the mock crash was to educate students about the consequences of drinking and driving.

“This is happening on our roads everyday, no one is immune,” said Leah Meadows, mother of 2003 CKHS grad Heather Meadows, who was killed when a drunk driver hit her car head-on two years ago. “What we want you to see is not just the horrible tragedy at the scene today, but that it can happen to anyone.”

Organized by CKHS parents and staff along with the Kitsap County Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the performance left students in tears. The mock crash is part of a series MADD puts on at local schools with rescue teams, law enforcement and a Airlift Northwest medical helicopter making the scene believable as well as utilizing it as additional training.

Marsha Masters, Kitsap County MADD Chapter president, told students that everyday 50 people die in alcohol-related car crashes.

“That’s 16,000 people that died last year,” Masters told students. “You need to remember this so you don’t become a statistic.”

After playing a recording that began with people laughing while drinking and ended with deafening sounds of crashing metal and screams, students watched as the tarps were removed from the accident scene.

Staggering out of one of the mangled cars, Christine Geronimo, who played the intoxicated driver, had blood running down her face while she called 911 to report the emergency.

After CKFR and deputy vehicles arrived on-scene, officials began questioning Geronimo, and administered a field sobriety test, while rescue workers attended to the wounded students.

While those with severe injuries were put in neck braces and loaded into the ambulance, Sarah Coquette, who played the victim, was loaded into a body bag and placed in the coroner’s van.

Screaming cries of agony, Melanie Simms was on the ground next to the sedan in a red dress, her body covered in blood. Suffering from a massive head injury and broken leg, Simms was immediately placed on a backboard and loaded into an ambulance.

“If you think about it, with 50 people dying everyday, that’s the equivalent to a 737 (plane) crashing to the ground every few days,” Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Martin told students as he narrated the crash scene. “That’s a lot of people.”

Only 20 minutes after the simulation began, students watched as an Airlift Northwest helicopter landed in the field across from the accident scene. Audible shrieks rang out as Simms was removed from the ambulance and placed on a gurney and rolled to the helicopter.

At the same time, Geronimo was placed under arrest for driving under the influence and escorted to a police vehicle. Michael Dorsey, who was one of Geronimo’s passengers, began yelling at her through the window of the police vehicle until officers were able to restrain him.

Tears welled in the eyes of parents in the bleachers, helplessly watching their children being loaded into emergency vehicles or body bags.

“It’s your worst fear,” said Suzie Simms, Melanie’s mother. “You’ve spent their whole life taking care of them, and you just hope your values will help them (make the right choices) in the future.”

Once Airlift Northwest had left the scene and headed for Harborview Medical Center, students sat teary-eyed and motionless in the silence left behind.

“The things you see here today are real, and they really happen,” State Trooper Brian George told the students. “The last thing I want to do is come to your family and tell your loved ones that you’ve died or were in a car-related accident.”

After the victims of the accident were removed from the scene, a letter was read by Meadows, addressing the emotional aftermath of having a loved one killed in a drunk driving crash.

“Visiting the grave of a friend or loved one is hard,” Meadows said with tears streaming down her face. “The life you save (by not drinking and driving) might be that of a friend or family member, or even your own.”

Students then listened to the reading of “I Went to a Party, Mom,” a poem about a girl who was killed by a drunk driver.

Following the end of the mock crash, as students filed out of the stands and made their way back to classes, the actors climbed out of the rescue and coroner vehicles.

“I think we gave everyone a good idea about drinking and driving,” said Dorsey. “If we can make a difference in one person’s life, then it is worth it.”

Simms, who was loaded into the helicopter, said the experience felt real while she was acting.

“The (mock crash) is a good thing to do,” Simms added. “It’s scary that this could happen to my friends.”

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