Donald Carter won't be attending his graduation. In a staged scene, the Paonia High School senior, had a dangerous mix of alcohol and marijuana in his system on prom night when he made the decision to get behind the wheel of a car carrying four other prom-goers. Carter collided head-on with a truck carrying two more prom-goers.
In the fictitious crash at Roberts' Corner on Highway 133, two students died at the scene, and another who was trapped inside the burning cab of the pickup with a dead driver was air-lifted by CareFlight to a nearby hospital.
Every other year, local EMS and law enforcement agencies work with schools to stage mock crashes as both a training exercise and a sobering reminder to students that drinking, drugs and distractions can instantly destroy lives.
The North Fork Ambulance Association, Paonia Volunteer Fire Department, Delta County Sheriff's Office and Dispatch, Delta County Coroner, and the Colorado State Patrol all donated their time and equipment to this year's mock crash exercises. CareFlight out of Montrose also donated a helicopter flight, fuel and crew.
"They've got one life," said lead organizer Kris Stewart with both the North Fork Ambulance Association and Delta County Sheriff's Office. "If it prevents one kid from getting hurt, it's all worth it."
To keep the potential consequences of driving while impaired or distracted in the minds of students, on the years the mock crash isn't held, CSP Sergeant Scott Gardner holds a student assembly to share real-life stories and statistics.
Planning for mock crashes begins in February when organizers meet with students at both high schools to gather feedback, said Stewart. For example, what kind of injuries do they want to see? Do they want fatalities? If so, how many? This year, he said, for the first time, students requested that the driver be both drunk and high on marijuana after national surveys showed a high number of students have recently been in a car when the driver is smoking pot.
Following the exercise students assembled to hear statistics and real-life stories from Sergeant Gardner, including a recent accident on Highway 92 involving a student who crashed while answering a call from her dad on her cell phone. Fortunately, he said, she was not injured.
They also were watched a video of Carter's arrest and booking into jail and learned that his family had to mortgage their home to pay his legal bills. They learned in detail of how deeply and permanently the crash affected the survivors and their families while mock memorial photos of the two fatalities, Nolan Egging of Hotchkiss, who was driving the truck, and Randi Rapke of Paonia, who was partially ejected from the car, were placed on the stage.
While it's all staged, the consequences of driving under the influence or while distracted are very real. "We want students to realize all that goes into responding to a wreck, what happens afterwards, and for them to take it seriously," said Stewart.