Cazenovia students recently took part in a crash course – well, a mock crash course – in the dangers of drunk driving.
“Alcohol is the leading cause of death among teenagers. We’ve come to a point of stabilizing the amount of fatalities and number of drunk driving incidents. But it remains a constant,” said Stephen Goodfriend, coordinator of Madison County Stop DWI. “The only way we will change that, is from the start; by getting new drivers coming into the system and ensuring they will never drink and drive.”
The Cazenovia Police Department conducted a “Mock DWI Crash” the morning of Thursday May 12 on the Cazenovia High School green for an audience of 300 juniors and seniors. In collaboration with the Cazenovia chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions, Madison County Stop DWI, Tait Funeral Home, Cazenovia Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps and district faculty, police officers and volunteer members of the Cazenovia fire department provided a real-life illustration of the repercussions of being drunk behind the wheel.
Goodfriend narrated the somber scene for the wide-eyed students.
Teenagers witnessed a plausible circumstance: set on prom night, four students were involved in a deadly automobile accident on their way to the dance. The driver, who drunkenly drove the car into a tree, escaped the crash with only bruises. As police arrived on the scene, CAVAC and the fire department were summoned. Sergeant Karen Zaleski administered a field-sobriety test and detained the driver.
Two of the passengers had to be extracted from the vehicle and set on stretchers. One of them required additional assistance, as the 10 responding firefighters had to use the jaws of life to remove a door and cut the roof off the rear of the car. The fourth passenger, who was thrown from the vehicle, was pronounced dead on the scene.
Coroners then arrived and assistant district attorney, Kathleen Rapasadi, began assessing the scene. Brian Tait handled the deceased student, still in her prom dress, placing her on a stretcher and taking her to the funeral home.
Gus Whitaker, a Cazenovia High School junior and SADD member, portrayed the drunk driver. “I think it’s good for students to see the recreation of an accident like this, because no one wants to relive this in real life. It’s awful,” he said.
Following the display on the school’s green, students attended an assembly in the auditorium. A panel comprised of the professionals involved in the exercise spoke to the crowd. A video created by Tait Funeral Home was shown, demonstrating the grief experienced by parents of young victims.
“When I retired from the Sheriff’s Department in 2008, one of the things I was looking forward to most, was never having to tell a parent that their child had been killed in an automobile accident,” said Cazenovia’s Chief of Police, Michael Hayes. I’m asking for help from of all the students, to make sure I don’t have to again.”
Cazenovia Fire Chief Gil Hodges also asked students to consider their family members before getting behind the wheel after drinking. He shared a story with the audience of a drunk driving accident he was involved in when he was 15 years old. While driving with his mother, an intoxicated driver crashed into their car. While no one was killed, his mother has experienced chronic back pain.
“Although the scene today at school was staged, everyone should remember in the blink of an eye tragic accidents can, and do happen. As firefighters, we signed up to help the people of our community at a moment’s notice and in the worst circumstances. Seeing real people with serious injuries, and sometimes death, affects us all,” Hodges said. “Drivers can help everyone by slowing down, not driving while distracted and never after they have been drinking. My hope for the students today is that they make good choices that keep them and everyone around them safe. Life goes too quickly, and sometimes there aren’t such things as second chances.”
The assembly concluded as Alice Borning, the district’s SADD advisor, passed out pledges to audience members. By signing one side, students promised to not text while driving and by signing the other, they promised to not drink and drive. Every 20 minutes, somebody in the United States dies from alcohol related accidents, according to Borning.
Chief Hayes said while the reenactment hasn’t run regularly in past years, the department plans on conducting the mock crash every other year, for the junior and senior classes.