Mock crash makes an impact

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The sirens started at 1:11 p.m. in the Superior Middle School parking lot. As they rolled to a stop, police, firefighters and Gold Cross paramedics were met with a bloody scene. Two cars had collided, one T-boning the other.

Half an hour later, two victims lay motionless under sheets, four had been loaded into an ambulance and one was sitting in a police car in handcuffs.

The accident response, and aftermath, was caught on video from five different angles by Superior High School students.

In all, 11 students participated in the mock drunk driving crash — six as victims, five as videographers.

"It gave me chills," said senior Faustina Lehto, one of the camera crew.

Students documenting the crash stood in a group as filming started, but soon they broke off to catch pieces of the unfolding scenario — a police officer, firefighter and paramedic huddled around an infant, performing CPR; driver Brenden Penney being given field sobriety tests and led away in handcuffs; classmates sitting quietly in their seats, covered in fake blood.

"It feels so surreal," said sophomore Abigail Willmore, a member of the camera crew. "You feel in the moment and it just makes you, like, so grateful for life."

Penney, a high school senior, said it was scary to be handcuffed, but he knew it wasn't real. The whole scenario was interesting, he said, "But I hope to God this never happens."

That's the point behind the mock crash, scripted by senior Melissa Harty for her senior project. She's seen people post pictures of themselves drinking and driving on social media, and wanted to address that.

"Pretty much my overall theme is to be safe, whether it be staying at someone's house, having a designated driver, do whatever you can to be safe, because this thing happens too often," Harty said.

Alcohol-related crashes killed 190 people in Wisconsin and injured nearly 2,900 in 2015, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Every day, 28 people in the United States die in alcohol-related vehicle crashes — that's one person every 51 minutes — according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Other distractions, like texting and driving or being under the influence of prescription drugs, can also lead to deadly crashes. Distracted driving claimed 3,477 lives in 2015, according to national statistics.

The mock crash wasn't Harty's original plan. Her first senior project proposal to job shadow at the neonatal intensive care unit was nixed due to patient privacy issues. Inspired by a friend whose cousin died in a drunk driving accident, Harty decided to stage the mock crash.

Plans to hold the event at SHS were derailed because of ongoing construction. Although Harty got the OK to set it up at the middle school, no students would be watching it. So she decided to film the crash response and edit it into a video that could be shown in advisory classes.

"The bar kept moving and she had no control over it," said Battalion Chief Erik Sutton with the Superior Fire Department. "But she stayed with it."

Barriers were still cropping up this week, as last-minute confusion surfaced over whether police officers were coming to the event.

"I am very proud of Melissa's persistence and passion towards this cause," said Rob Scott, senior project coordinator at SHS. "She has had to overcome a lot of logistical adversity as well as coordinate with several different local agencies to pull this off."

Superior firefighters were quick to sign on for the mock crash. Stadium Towing and Lakeside Towing provided the cars.

"This was an extremely ambitious senior project," Sutton said. "This has made all of us, each participating department, want to do all we can to assist her in making this happen."

It turns out Harty got an audience. Paramedic students from Lake Superior College were on hand Thursday to watch the script play out.

"I was pretty impressed when I was here waiting seeing everybody show up, especially the college students here," said Harty's project mentor, Fawn Lowney. "Which is really exciting, because it's not just a senior project — this is training for real life for people. It's a great opportunity."

Sutton said firefighters get extrication training on an annual basis, but this event gave it an added element and purpose.

Scott said student-led awareness campaigns can have a big impact on their classmates. Even with the editing left to do, Harty has already left an impression.

"It definitely is something that makes me not want to drink and drive, or get into a car with a drunk driver," said sophomore Brooklynn Jones, who helped film the scene. "It's not a funny thing at all."