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Crash course on drinking and driving

Mock accident shakes up students, drives home lessons
by: Vern Uyetake, Senior Nick Hanlin portrays a fatality at a mock car crash at West Linn High School. His real parents, Patrick and Shelley Hanlin, also played his parents in the emotional event.

The scene was shocking. A girl was screaming. A boy, his face bloodied, stumbling from the car. A body, flown through the windshield, resting on the hood of the car. Parents crying, sirens wailing and the deafening sound of a Life Flight helicopter landing.

These are the sights and sounds from a mock car accident put on at West Linn High School on Friday, the day before prom.

With cooperation form West Linn police, Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, Life Flight and the West Linn High School Associated Student Body, a tragic and deadly accident was re-enacted for the juniors and seniors at the school. In an effort to reduce tragedies related to teenage drinking and driving, TVF and R participates in SKID (Stop Kids Intoxicated Driving) events each year at local high schools.

Sending out a message against impaired and distracted driving, the goal of the enactment was to remind students of the consequences of the choices they make.

On Friday, juniors and seniors were ushered outside to the football field for an 'assembly.' The students had no idea what was about to happen.

On the field were two cars covered by tarps. On the loudspeakers a narrated story started to unfold of some West Linn teens at a party.

As some of the teens start drinking, their decision-making skills quickly spiral downward as they decide to drive home. One of the teens, who happens to be sober, forgets to buckle his seatbelt.

When the drunk driver, portrayed by junior Caitlin O'Neal, gets a text message, she loses control of her car and crashes head-on with another.

It is then that the tarps are removed from the vehicles - revealing a boy, played by senior Nick Hanlin, splayed across the hood of a car, bloodied and dead. O'Neal jumps from the car screaming. The driver and passenger from the other car are unconscious and trapped.

'As emergency responders, it is heart-breaking seeing this in real life,' TVF and R Public Information Officer Brian Barker said. 'We are there on the worst day of people's lives. This helps students see that through our eyes.'

As the scene unfolds, the first to arrive are witnesses, fellow teens. Then come two police cars, two fire engines and a medical unit. Quickly, Hanlin's parents (played by his real parents) arrive, and they are horrified to find their son dead.

The event plays out in real time. As medics are taking care of the injured teens an officer gives O'Neal a sobriety test and then arrests her. Firefighters use special saws to cut the roof off one car to extricate the trapped passengers.

Next, a Life Fight helicopter lands in the middle of the football field and one of the injured parties is put on board and flown away.

But that is not the end; finally, the medical examiner comes, takes photos of the scene and loads Hanlin's body into a body bag and into a hearse.

'I thought it was extremely powerful,' said Butch Self, a teacher and ASB adviser.

'Kids think they're invincible and there's not a lot of opportunities for them to see what really happens,' WLHS Resource Officer Mike Francis said of the event. 'When you're there and you see the sights and sounds - it's really impactful.'

Self said that although the storyline is fictional, emotions can run high, especially for Hanlin's parents.

In the crowd of juniors and seniors the mood ebbed and flowed. At some times there was some giggling, but then a quiet hush would flood the stands. There were even a couple of tears shed at the end.

'It's a very emotional message that we're trying to send the kids,' West Linn Sgt. Neil Hennelly said.

'It was the most amazing thing,' senior Shannon Tibbal said. 'It was really impactful.'

Student Sam Dawson agreed: 'It just reinforces the thought that no one should be drinking and driving, or even drinking at all.'

The last time West Linn High School hosted a mock accident was five years ago. Since then, the students involved in ASB have wanted to do another one. Junior Paige Myers helped plan this year's event.

'People were definitely shaken up by it,' said Myers. 'If it affects just one person, it's worth doing.'

The script for the mock car crash comes from TVF and R, but the ASB students localized it, naming real students and adding details to it. About three weeks ago, some of the students went to the studio at Charlie FM to record.

'The actors did a tremendous job. They deviated from the script and personalized it,' Francis said.

Along with impaired driving, emergency responders are seeing the effects of distracted driving, such as talking and texting on cellphones. So they included that message in the script this year.

'Remember, it's choice. It's all about choice,' Francis said. 'We're all given the opportunity to make decisions. They can have life-long impacts - not just on you, but the people who love you and people you don't even know.'

Since the program's start in 1998, more than 75,000 high school students have seen a SKID program within Clackamas and Washington counties.