DeKALB – A sobering 911 call from a frantic student sounded through the DeKalb High School hallways before students walked outside to see a staged car wreck and a bloodied classmate laying motionless.
Emergency vehicles with sirens blaring raced into the parking lot to find five other students inside the mangled vehicles in the parking lot in front of the school.
The scene Thursday was DeKalb High School’s mock crash, meant to deter students from driving intoxicated as prom and graduation season is in full swing. The event historically has been held every two years for juniors and seniors, but this was the first time in five years for the display at DHS.
DeKalb High School’s prom is today. Sycamore High School’s prom is the following Saturday, May 17.
DeKalb police, firefighters and the DeKalb County Coroner Dennis Miller donated their time for the display, which included students being pulled out of doors with shattered windows and an arrest for drunken driving.
Students Sammie Coakley and Amanda Hedberg said the display was designed to give students a powerful example of what can happen when alcohol, drugs or even texting mix with driving. They are co-presidents of the DeKalb County Partnership for an Abuse Free Environment group that organized the event.
“I don’t think most kids see this as a reality,” Coakley said. “If it keeps one person from making a bad decision, our job is done.”
Student William Ferguson, who played dead in the scene, said he wanted to show students the weight of their decisions during prom and graduation season as well as the rest of the year.
“I think a lot of our students think they can only enjoy themselves if they’re drinking and then they have to go home so they drive,” Ferguson said. “I want them to realize it’s not OK.”
In 2012, 32 percent of high school seniors across DeKalb County said they had ridden in a car driven by someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol, according to the most recent Illinois Youth Survey. Of the sophomores included in the study – those who would be seniors now – 26 percent said they had been in a car driven by someone who was high or had been drinking.
There were three fatal crashes in DeKalb County involving alcohol in 2012, based on data from the Illinois Department of Transportation. Of the 886 fatal crashes across the state, 37 percent involved alcohol. Teen drivers accounted for four percent of crash fatalities.
Coroner Dennis Miller wheeled away two teenagers in body bags during the display. Although he said in his 30 years as coroner he’s never been called to the scene of a fatal drunken-driving crash on prom night, he unfortunately is familiar with teenagers involved with fatal crashes.
“The hardest part is taking the body out of the car and going to mom’s and dad’s house and saying: ‘Can I come inside? I need to talk to you,’” Miller said.
High school junior Courtney Casner, 17, didn’t participate in the display but had to walk away from her front-row seat while she watched a fellow student get zipped into a body bag.
As she wiped away tears, Casner said she was disheartened by how flippant other students were about the scene.
She explained that her father had lost two friends to drunken-driving crashes, so she’s seen the impact that intoxicated driving can have.
“It’s depressing,” Casner said. “This is a serious thing. What if that was someone you knew?”
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