Though the smashed up cars, broken glass and bloodied students in the Marietta High School parking lot Friday were all part of a cautionary performance, the fear and sometimes tears in the eyes of the onlookers were very real.
"Walking up on the accident, I got chills. I know it's not real, but it could be," said 18-year-old senior Sammi Nelson.
Nelson was one of hundreds of Marietta High School juniors and seniors who gathered in the school's parking lot to observe the mock car crash the day before their prom.
ROBB DeCAMP Special to the Times
Trooper Tim Gossett of the Ohio State Highway Patrol checks for a pulse on an actor playing a fatality victim during a mock three-vehicle crash at Marietta High School Friday morning. Staged the day before prom, the crash was meant to send a powerful warning to students about the consequences of drinking and driving or texting behind the wheel.
The scenario, which featured a drunk driver and a driver who was texting, was designed to get the students' attention by offering up a realistic portrayal of what can happen if teens choose to text or participate in other dangerous behavior while driving, said Principal Bill Lee.
"Teens have a tendency to think they are bulletproof. But you're not. It can happen to you," said Lee.
Around 10 a.m. students began to hear sirens blaring and witnessed as several of their classmates began to drag themselves-some screaming, some crying-out of three badly shattered vehicles in the parking lot.
Texting and driving
In 2008, distracted driving resulted in nearly 6,000 fatalities and more than 500,000 injuries.
Drivers under the age of 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.
Ohio law prohibits those under 18 from using a mobile phone for any purpose while driving.
Source: www.cdc.gov, Ohio Revised Code
Other actors remained trapped in vehicles or lied motionless underneath red-stained sheets, the casualties of the performance.
Senior Amelia Gulick, 17, who portrayed a passenger of the driver who had been texting, said the worst part of the scenario was how real it all felt.
"It was a little too real," said Gulick, who was genuinely worried as first responders used the Jaws of Life to cut the roof away from her vehicle while another student was still inside.
Members of the Devola Volunteer Fire Company, Marietta police and fire departments, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Washington County Sheriff's Office responded to the scene.
A MedFlight helicopter that landed at the school to transport one of the victims also had a very dramatic effect, said Lee.
"I know some of the firefighters, and it makes you think, if this was real they would actually have to be doing this, seeing these dead kids," said Nelson.
Another victim in the texting car, senior Amelia Cain, 18, said she thinks the message was well-received by most of the students watching.
"As soon as those sirens started blaring they were much more serious. Some people were tearing up. Everyone was paying attention," she said.
High school English teacher Amy Warren said she was glad the event included the texting scenario this year. In previous years, the event has focused mainly on drunk driving.
"Kids don't always see texting as a problem," she said.
Many more students are guilty of texting and driving than drinking and driving, said Devola Volunteer Fire Company assistant fire chief J.J. Bichard, who helped coordinate the event.
"With the smart phones being like they are, you can't walk into school and find a student without a cell phone," he noted.
Friday's texting culprit, senior Joe Broughton, 18, said he and his friends are generally good about finding safer ways to communicate while driving.
"I've had friends who hand me their phone and ask me to text their sister or something," he said.
But many students admitted to being in a car with a friend who was practicing the unsafe behavior.
"I had a friend doing it and they swerved. It was scary," said Gulick.
Senior Corey Spanner, 18, who played the driver who drunkenly hit another car and killed all five passengers, said he is much less likely to use his cell phone while in the car.
"I think a lot of us are guilty of maybe doing it at a stoplight. But especially after today, to be honest, I won't. That was scary," said Spanner.
Regardless of how much you try to reach youth, there will always be some who continue to make bad decisions, said Lee. The goal of Friday's event is to minimize that, he said.
"We hope that 100 percent of students don't drink and drive, but you never know," he said.
To further encourage good behavior, the school will be administering random breathalyzer tests to prom participants before and during the event, said Lee.
"We are hoping for a safe and fun-filled prom," he said.