Mock nightmare: Crash simulation at Northwestern High School gives students a life lesson

Wednesday was a cloudy day at Northwestern High School as students filed onto the football field to witness a scene everyone hopes they'll never see for real.

Wednesday was a cloudy day at Northwestern High School as students filed onto the football field to witness a scene everyone hopes they'll never see for real.

Before their eyes was the re-enactment of a parent's worse nightmare -- a fatal crash involving four teen girls.

On the track in front of the stand lay the aftermath of a one-vehicle accident.

Emily Ross lay strewn on the ground near a large blue van with a wrecked front end.

Inside the van were her friends Johanna Conrad, Kaylee Frings and Katie Pearson.


The girls lay helpless until another student ran up to the van and called 911.

Then the sirens begin sounding. Maple Fire Department and the Douglas County rescue squad rush to the scene.

Northwestern's chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions partnered with six local emergency response organizations to stage the school's first mock crash in an attempt to get students to think before getting behind the wheel.

The SADD chapter is making a big push for driver safety. In April, the group made a push to encourage seatbelt use. Students who were wearing seatbelts were "ticketed" for a chance to win prizes. Students who weren't buckled up received a toe tag, denoting the possible consequences of not buckling up.

Maple fire department and Douglas County rescue squad were the first to respond to Wednesday's mock crash, followed by Gold Cross ambulance.

The rescue squad tore apart the blue van, donated by Poplar Auto, just as they would in a real life crash. They strapped Frings and Pearson to boards and carried them away on stretchers.

Frings flew off in Luke's One, St. Luke's hospital's rescue chopper and rescuers took Pearson to the Gold Cross ambulance.

"It was scarier than I thought it would be," Frings said.


Pearson agreed. The girls lay in the back of the van. When the rescue workers arrived, they placed blankets on top of Frings and Pearson then broke the van's windows.

The rescuers were very professional, Frings said.

They just talked the whole time, and they knew what they were doing.

Sitting in the van, both girls could see their classmates faces as rescuers tore into the van.

They were riveted at moments, they said.

The lesson started earlier in the day when students viewed "Don't Have a Life Wreck," a 15-minute video and PowerPoint presentation about teen car accidents from St. Luke's.

School administrators are counting on the video and mock crash to burn into the memories of students and inspire them to think before getting behind the wheel, said principal Steve High.

The date for the crash was well-planned. Northwestern's prom is May 12, graduation is May 25, and summer is not far off.


As the weather warms up, students are more likely to be driving at night. Some kids might be tempted to take in a party. SADD and the organizations involved Wednesday's event just want to teach them not to get behind the wheel if they aren't ready, said Dan Diamon, a member of the Lake Superior Regional Trauma Advisory Council and Gold Cross paramedic.

"If we can keep kids from being hurt in the first place ... we don't have to worry about the outcome," he said.

Diamon and other crash organizers don't want to see any of Northwestern's students end up like the girls in the mock crash.

Frings and Pearson were carried away by rescue workers, but the parts played by Ross and Conrad told a different side of the story.

It was all over for Ross. She was "dead." After checking for signs of life rescue workers covered her with a sheet and focused on the living.

It was a cold half hour for Ross, dressed in shorts and a sweatshirt lying on the track.

It was weird hearing the bangs going on above without being able to see anything, she said. When Frings and Pearson were taken away, rescuers returned to Ross and placed her in a body bag.

"It was kind of creepy when they put me in the bag," she said.


Conrad, the "driver," was unharmed by the crash, but her character's life was changed forever.

State Trooper Pat Kraetke finished the mock crash Wednesday by giving Conrad a field sobriety test and arresting her for homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle.

"Obviously it's a pretty serious event that you don't want to get involved in," Kraetke said.

In a real crash, Conrad would be facing prison time. After prison, she would never be able to vote or own a gun, and she'd live with the knowledge she killed her friend, he said.

Conrad said the experience has motivated her to uphold the law. It would be embarrassing to be arrested in front of friends who know what you did, she said.

Demonstrations to high schoolers take a lot of work, Kraetke said.

"You just hope it has some impact on the kids here," he said.

The arrest didn't end the lessons for Northwestern High School students.


Next Wednesday, the SADD chapter is holding Grim Reaper Day, said Marsha Scherz, SADD co-advisor. Every 30 minutes a bell will toll and the grim reaper will visit a classroom to remove a SADD student.

The student will later return to class and not speak throughout the day because they are "dead."

Statistics show that every 33 minutes someone dies as the result of an impaired car crash, so the reaper visits to remind students about the dangers of impaired and distracted driving, Scherz said.

At the end of the day students will have an assembly. Obituaries for the students pulled from class will be read, Scherz said.

Car accidents are the No. 1 killer of teens. These events are just a way to get the message of safety across to Northwestern students, said Mavis Johnson, school nurse and local first responder.

"Seeing says a lot more than all the written things we could give them," Johnson said. "Seeing makes an impact."

Anna Kurth covers education. Call her at (715) 395-5019 or e-mail .

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