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Students see dangers of drunk driving firsthand

JENNA-LEY HARRISON
Staff Writer

Students at West Lincoln High School experienced a mock car crash Friday morning to illustrate the deadly dangers of drinking and driving.
Because the school prom took place the following day, teachers and local first-responders thought it vital to show the effects of driving under the influence of alcohol, particularly with teen drinking rates often higher during the special formal night.
With the help of Nationwide Griffin Insurance Agency in Lincolnton, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Medical Services, Howards Creek Volunteer Fire Department and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, the real-life portrayal of a fatal car accident grabbed the attention of numerous juniors and seniors.
Ironically, troopers were not able to attend a majority of Friday’s event because they were called to a drunk driving accident near the school on Reepsville Road.
One West Lincoln student and two paramedic students from Gaston College served as actors in the scenario, decked out in prom attire and colorful makeup representing blood, bruises and other injuries.
Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) sponsored the event.
Club member and senior Curtis Hansen played the part of the teen driver, who walked away from the crash unharmed.
The incident, he noted, brought back memories of how his family crashed into a drunk driver during the Christmas season two years ago.
Hansen said his family’s vehicle drove up over the second vehicle after the driver took a wrong turn toward them. No one was injured.
“No one should drink and drive,” he said. “It’s really life-threatening.”
Hampton’s Wrecker Services, Inc., in Lincolnton, provided the mock scenario’s wrecked vehicle, teachers said.
From one girl lying dead on the street covered in blood and glass — a sheet later placed over her body — to the jolting sounds of victims’ screams and sirens from fire and police vehicles, the scene proved authentic and convincing.
Upon arrival, firefighters immediately jumped from their truck and used the jaws of life to remove the vehicle’s roof and extricate the two individuals stuck inside.
The incident captured the attention of 11th grader Amanda Ritch.
“It definitely had a large impact,” she said, “because our peers do drink.”
Fellow junior, Ashlyn Joines, whose dad is a state trooper, noted how watching the crash up close “made it (more) real.”
The scenario also reminded the students of a West Lincoln High School teacher injured in a wreck on prom night last year.
According to SADD leader and graduation coach for Communities in Schools (CIS), Tiffany Dalton, fellow educator Sandy Dellinger struggled for a year to recover from her injuries.
“She is just now able to walk from her classroom to the office,” Dalton said.
Each spring, the club presents for students either a scenario, discussion or assembly on the topic of drinking and driving.
Last year, Judge Meredith Shuford, along with a local attorney and state trooper, detailed the court process and costs for someone charged with a DWI, showing students the legal ramifications of an arrest.
Students are also chosen throughout “Prom Promise Spirit Week,” the week leading up to prom, to play “grim reapers” — teens killed in wrecks.
According to SADD Advisor Tammy Leatherman, teachers pull students from class at random — every 51 minutes based on crash statistics — and place them back among their peers to sit at desks and roam the hallways with white-painted faces.
Prohibited from talking, the students often provoke chills among fellow students as they showcase the reality of school life following a classmate’s death.
“Kids think, ‘(Death isn’t) going to happen to me,’ “ Leatherman said.
According to Ellen Hunsucker, the Nationwide Insurance agent who contacted the Sheriff’s Office and other agencies that put on the mock crash, she is all too familiar with dealing with the parents of teen wreck victims.
“I’ve turned in several (drunk driving) claims for teens that have died,” she said.
“It just takes their whole future away from them. Statistics show the more inexperienced (young drivers) are, the more likely they are to wreck, and add alcohol on top of that — it’s like pouring gasoline on a fire.”
Dr. Cale Sain, principal of West Lincoln High School, called Friday’s scenario “a chilling reminder of what can happen” when people drink and drive.
For him, prom night always worries him.
“We hope it impacted kids to make the right decisions,” he said.

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