It happened at about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday May 28: two Liverpool High School students happened upon a horrific crash in front of the school.
“Please, come quickly — there’s been an accident,” Sara Huck sobbed into her cell phone to the 911 operator. “They’re hurt really bad.”
Meanwhile, C.J. Cuellar circled the cars, surveying the damage. Trapped inside the blue compact, Becca Wemesfelder wept hysterically, clutching her bleeding arm and crying out her friend’s name. But Lauren Mahaffy, her passenger, lay bloody and unresponsive.
In the green sedan, meanwhile, Jeanna Bayley and Krisi Bacher sat amid empty beer cans, trying to sober up before the police arrived.
In a matter of minutes, Clay police cars, NOVA ambulances and fire trucks from Moyers Corners were on the scene. Wemesfelder and Bacher were loaded into ambulances while Bayley failed a sobriety test and was lead away in handcuffs. Mahaffy was left for the Onondaga County Medical Examiner, who pronounced her dead and carried her away in a body bag.
Bayley was then arraigned by Clay Town Justice Brian Lauri, who set bail at $50,000 cash or $100,000 bond. She now faced criminal charges including vehicular manslaughter, vehicular assault and driving while intoxicated.
“She’ll have to live with this for the rest of her life,” said Assistant District Attorney Matt Doran, who works with the DA’s DWI unit. “She hurt her friend. She killed someone — all because of one bad choice.”
An avoidable crime
Fortunately, it wasn’t real. It was all part of Liverpool High School’s mock DWI presentation, held last Wednesday in an attempt to drive home to LHS seniors the dangers of drinking and driving and the importance of making responsible choices.
“I always say that DWI is the most avoidable crime,” Doran told the students, who had come out during their academic support to watch the presentation. “No one has to drink and drive.”
In addition to giving the students a firsthand look at what happens in a DWI crash and its aftermath, Doran provided them with statistics on drunk driving in Onondaga County. The number one cause of death in people in their age group is traffic fatalities, and 25 percent of all people arrested for DWI in the county are under 21.
“That means that about five or 10 of you will be charged with DWI by the time you’re 21,” Doran said.
Timing is everything
The mock DWI presentation has been going on at the high school for more than 10 years, according to school safety officer Michael McCarthy. It typically takes place at the end of May.
“With prom season and everything, the timing is really important,” McCarthy said. “We want to remind kids of the consequences of making bad choices.”
Each year, the school works with several local agencies to make the presentation happen. They tweak it every year, adding something new; this year was the first time it included an arraignment by a local judge.
The goal of the realistic and emotional display is to remind kids of the potential costs of one poor decision.
“Hopefully students will think twice and make the right choice,” said LHS Executive Principal Greg Avellino.
“We want to give kids a real look at what goes on,” McCarthy said. “They don’t necessarily get any experience with a DWI crash beyond driving by it on the highway. This way they see everything that goes into it — all of the consequences.”
Both men said the presentation has had the desired effect.
“It absolutely makes an impression,” McCarthy said. “Many come up to me afterwards and tell me about someone they knew who was in an alcohol-related crash. They can relate to it.”
“Their reactions are quite somber,” Avellino said. “They really think about it — what if it was them in that car?”
For more photos of the event, visit cnylink.com.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.