OSWEGO, NY – It’s prom season, with graduation celebrations just weeks away.
However, prior to all the fun, juniors at Oswego High School gathered to view a macabre demonstration of what could go wrong if alcohol and driving become part of the celebration.
The Oswego Police Department, Oswego Fire Department, Stop DWI Coordinator Robert Lighthall, Oswego County Coroner (ADA) Mark Moody, student volunteers and others worked together to create the accident scene.
A mock drunk driving accident was staged in the school parking lot.
Several teens were “injured;” one was “dead” at the scene, according to the scenario.
Studies have shown that it takes less than one second for you to die in a car crash, the students in the audience were told.
In the first tenth of a second, the front bumper and grill collapse.
In the second tenth, the hood crumbles, rises and strikes the windshield, and spinning rear wheels lift off the ground. At the same time, fenders begin wrapping themselves around any object that the car comes in contact with. The car’s frame has been stopped, but its occupants are still moving.
In the third tenth, the steering wheel starts to disintegrate. The steering column aims for the driver’s chest.
In the fourth tenth of a second, the first two feet of the car gone, the rear end is still moving at 35 mph.
In the fifth tenth, the driver is impaled on the steering column and their lungs rupture.
In the sixth tenth, the impact is to the point where the driver’s feet are ripped out of tightly laced shoes. Their knees and the bones below their knees snap.
In the seventh tenth of a second the hinges on the doors and the hood rip loose. The back of the seat comes ripped out of the floor of the car and slams into the back of the driver, they don’t feel it – they are already dead.
The deceased victim sprawled out on the asphalt as (theatrical) blood oozed from his head.
His fellow students listened as the PA system blared the 911 call.
Some were startled at the sound of sirens as police cars arrived on the scene followed by two fire department ambulances and a fire truck in case one of the damaged vehicles ignited.
Everything was treated as if it was a real crash, Lighthall stressed.
A police officer gave the driver a field sobriety test, and when he failed, they took him into custody and charged him with DWI.
A felony charge of second-degree vehicular manslaughter was added later at his arraignment in front of Oswego Town Court Judge Michael Sterio.
The EMTs removed the victims from the vehicles. They had to rip off the roof of each vehicle to get to the victims.
It had taken about two minutes for emergency crews to respond.
“Seemed like it was forever,” said Kathy MacPherson, an investigator with the District Attorney’s Office, who helped narrate the presentation. “That’s how it feels when you are waiting for help to arrive. That’s in the city. Out in the county you could be as much as 10 to 12 minutes before anybody gets to you.”
The “deceased’s” body was covered with a white sheet. If it were a real accident the body would remain there, perhaps for hours, as the crash investigators reconstructed what happened, Lighthall noted.
The EMTs were all working on the living victims. They treat the deceased with great respect, but there is no sense of urgency, he added, they are doing what they can to help the living.
When the victims have been taken away, investigators remain trying to find the cause of the crash; the deceased’s body might still be there for a while as well.
Oswego Fire Chief Jeff McCrobie praised the organizers of the event and the effort of his department.
“It’s going real well. The kids are paying attention and hopefully they get the message,” he said. “This is also good training for the department. Everyone involved, including the students, is treating this like it’s the real thing.”
“You can see how their expressions change when they look and see themselves in the casket,” Lighthall said. “They may not have been paying attention during the entire program, but they are now. That really drives home the point. Event the EMTs get some training out of this.”
Students then moved to the Leighton gymnasium where they witnessed the police officer tell the victim’s mother and father their son would never becoming home again.
Shortly after, the officer brought the suspect, accompanied by his defense attorney Tim Kerwin, in to be “arraigned” in front of Sterio. ADA Moody requested the young man be remanded to jail on the charges. The judge agreed.
Then, the “parents” and the “injured” students wheeled a casket into the center of the gym.
The victim’s best friend delivered the eulogy.
“It’s so hard to talk about him in the past tense. He was the type of young man who had a great future ahead of him,” he said, his voice trembling with emotion.
Area resident Shelly Lockwood told the students about the real life horror she lived through 17 years ago when a drunk driver killed her husband.
She displayed actually photos from the crash scene.
The other driver served just four years in prison.
She encouraged the students to call their parents if they need a ride home because someone has been drinking alcohol.
“Have a plan,” she said. “Call; don’t be stupid. Even one drink is way too much. Get home safely – don’t become a statistic!”
As the juniors filed out, they paid their respects to the victim’s family and friends. In doing so, they walked past the open casket. Many walked straight past without giving it a glance. A few did take a look. What they saw was themselves; a large mirror was resting on the pillow at the head of the casket.
“If we got through to just one person, if we saved just one life then it was worth it,” said OHS Principal Brian Hartwell. “We can only hope.”