Highland High seniors prep for prom with reenactment of fatal DWI wreck

Students Against Destructive Decisions at Highland High School staged a mock accident scene last week at the school involving local police, fire and medical personnel. The purpose of the event (held before the senior prom) was to remind students of the consequences of drinking and driving, as well as distracted driving. (Lauren Thomas)

It was a sobering event, to say the least: All Highland High School seniors who planned on attending the prom this past weekend first had to sit through a film, made in Australia, showing gory reenactments of vehicular accidents caused by someone being intoxicated from alcohol and/or drugs. While students watched the perils of making a poor choice and getting behind the wheel after drinking or drugging, outside in the parking lot, members of Highland’s Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) were getting ready to stage a reenactment of their own.

Several were dressed in prom attire; all had realistic bloodstains, bruises, torn shoes. Erickson’s Garage provided two vehicles that had been in accidents, and the Highland Fire Department, Mobile One Life and the Lloyd Police Department were all participants in the drama. As the film concluded, over the loudspeaker came a faux 911 call that there had been an accident outside of the Highland High School. As the seniors filed out, they saw two destroyed vehicles: a white Trailblazer and a small red Volkswagen. “In all of the years I’ve done this, I’ve never seen the victims look so realistic. They really took this seriously, which is great,” said Wade Sargent of the Lloyd Police Department.

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Over a microphone, Pete Miller, veteran assistant police chief for Lloyd, narrated the scene. “The scenario here is that three students were on their way home from a prom party and swerved into the oncoming lane, striking another vehicle that had a driver and a female passenger who is four months pregnant,” he explained. A 911 call was phoned in one to five minutes after the accident, and then emergency services were notified by dispatch one to two minutes later, all of whom loaded into their vehicles and headed towards the scene of the accident.

A Lloyd police officer was the first on the scene. And as he moved from vehicle to vehicle trying to assess the victims, he noted that there was a strong odor of alcohol emanating from the driver of the vehicle, who was already stirring to consciousness, as were some but not all of the victims. The assistant chief continued to narrate the scene as the police officer made his way over to the white truck and radioed in that he believed the woman on the passenger side could be Dead on Arrival (DOA).

As firetrucks and Mobile Life ambulances came roaring into the parking lot, the officer got the driver out of the car and asked her how much she’d had to drink. “She said she had two alcoholic beverages,” the Chief narrated. The officer gave her a series of sobriety field checks, which she failed, and then stopped because he felt that she was too intoxicated and might fall and injure herself more. He placed her under arrest and she was sent to the police station for more thorough Breathalyzer and other alcohol/drug-detecting tests.

Firefighters worked swiftly to prepare both vehicles so that they could extricate the victims as safely as possible, and working with Mobile Life, placed seriously injured victims on backboards with head braces, wheeling them into the ambulance and sending them to the nearest trauma center. It was determined by the Emergency Medical Technician on hand that the pregnant woman was in fact dead, and a coroner was called, as well as a local funeral home director, to take her to Kingston Hospital for an autopsy.

Students gasped as they saw the female victim taken from the car and put into a body bag. The Chief explained that the road would be closed for several hours as the police gathered evidence and did an accident report. “What started as a joyous day ended in tragedy for many because of a poor decision,” said Miller.

When asked how real this scenario was, the Assistant Chief said, “Sadly, it’s very real. I’ve been doing this for 38 years, and I’ve seen more than my share of these types of accidents.”

The students were then asked to return to the auditorium, where there were large posterboard-sized photos of children ranging from 10 months to 18 years of age: all victims of drinking/drugging-related accidents, all from the region, all dead because of someone’s poor decision — either theirs, a friend’s or a stranger’s. “This is real, folks,” said veteran Ulster County Sheriff’s officer Tim Maguire, who, prior to his partial retirement, had been called to each accident that he discussed with the students.

He started with Jared Fisher, a ten-month-old from Esopus who was in a car seat in his parents’ Saab when the car was struck by a drunk driver. Jared’s shoulders were separated by the car-seat belts and he was ejected from the vehicle, every bone in his body broken. He died shortly after being transported to the hospital. “Esopus is a small town. This impacted everybody: the Fishers first and foremost, who soon got divorced because the pain was too intense; their friends, family, neighbors; and the officers and emergency service providers who were at the scene and tried to save this baby boy. I was there. I remember getting the call at the station that he had died. Those are words you never forget; those are scenes you never forget. And they’re unnecessary.” He and officers from Lloyd asked the students to think and think hard before they make a decision that could end up ruining their lives and/or someone else’s.

Asked why the SADD members volunteered to participate in such a gory scenario, Tiffany Scarchilli said, “Because we want it to impact our classmates and our friends. We want them to understand that drinking and driving, after the prom or any time, could likely result in something like this.”

“I like the fact that to go to the prom, students have to attend this assembly,” said fellow SADD member Cyisha Pitman. “My friend got a DWI [Driving while Intoxicated] when I was in the car with her. Thankfully, no one got hurt, but she lost her license. I saw her fail the sobriety test. She can’t drive herself anywhere, and it was a real wakeup call for me.”

Hopefully, the assembly was a wakeup call for the Highland seniors, and they will have a safe and sober and celebratory finish to their senior year. ++

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