'Drunk driving' invades Estacada High School
Oregon Impact simulates a drunk driving accident at the high school, sending shockwaves through the student body
Among some of the most nostalgic ideas in American culture is the high school prom. While prom brings up different ideas for everyone, many common themes seem to run through most people's minds: parties, limos flowers, pictures and dancing.
For some, alcohol is a common addition to that short list.
For Oregon Impact and the DEFY (Drug-free Estacada Families and Youth) Youth Coalition, drinking and driving on prom night was an idea that needed discouragement.
So on May 11, the day before Estacada's prom, Oregon Impact made an unforgettable trip to Estacada.
Oregon Impact is an organization geared toward providing educational experiences to end impaired and distracted driving. Among the programs it has designed for achieving its goal is Operation Prom Night.
Here's the program description: 'We work with students participating in the program at each school to provide a live DUI crash reenactment in real time. From the sound of the crash to the last fatality being removed in a body bag, students see for themselves the consequences of one bad choice.'
The program remained a big secret to all of the students on campus aside from a small group that was selected to participate in the reenactment. The students chosen were either members of the DEFY Youth Coalition or were kids identified as having a large influence on campus.
So at 6:45 a.m., the selected students arrived at school to have makeup put on them to simulate what they would look like having experienced a car accident. The makeup included fractured bones and huge gashes applied by medical professionals who had seen what these type of victims would actually have looked like.
Members of the student body were told they were having a prom assembly, and when they arrived at the bleachers by the track, a tent was set up featuring a DJ from Wild 107.5, a popular local radio station.
'They had music playing ahead of time and so it was a fun atmosphere,' said Sonja McCarty, the DEFY program director. 'They even gave away some concert tickets to the winner of a dance contest.'
The fun atmosphere didn't last long, however.
Just 15 minutes after the assembly began, flash bangs went off in the field, slowly revealing the scene of a crash. As the music stopped, a phone began ringing over the speaker system, and students began hearing a 9-1-1 call.
As the smoke dissipated, the field had become the home to a two-car head-on collision that had strewn real-life bodies everywhere.
The story went that one of the two cars was full of students heading to the Clackamas Town Center to see a movie, while the other car was being driven by a drunk driver headed to prom.
As soon as the collision took place, another student who happened to be in the area and saw the crash dialed 9-1-1 to report what had happened. The drunk driver, played by Estacada student Landon Young, slowly stumbled out of the car and began assessing what had just taken place.
As the crash scene unfolded in real time, the police, fire trucks and ambulances eventually responded to the scene and began assessing the damage and how to proceed. While Young underwent a sobriety test in front of the crowd, the EMTs began covering up the dead bodies and dealing with the injuries. Ultimately, they decided they needed to use the Jaws of Life to remove on passenger from the car, and so the top of the car was cut off and the passenger removed.
'They treat it as realistic as possible,' McCarty said.
As the damage continued to be assessed, the deceased students were placed in real body bags and loaded into a funeral chapel vehicle. Likewise, Young eventually was placed in the backseat of a police car after failing his sobriety test.
As everything unfolded, Estacada students responded with varying degrees of shock and emotion.
'With this being so real, it wasn't bringing in people that students couldn't identify with. These were their own students, they know their families, and they see them day in and day out,' McCarty said. 'Hearing River Mill Road and Highway 211, you know right where that's at.
'One comment I loved was that it was too realistic.'
For Estacada student Stetson Riley, who was driving the car headed to the movies, the reactions she heard from students were similar.
'People asked if it was a joke at first, but once the 9-1-1 call came through, it was dead silence,' she said. 'When I left, there were lots of people crying who were emotionally disturbed.
'I watched them take the passenger out of the car, and that was really, really weird. One second we were having a normal conversation, and the next he was gone.'
For some people, the emotions were so strong that Young was even treated differently at school for a few days.
'We told the kids that some people are going to feel certain feelings about you, good or bad,' McCarty said. '(Young) was actually shunned for a little while at school because what kids saw was so real and so horrific.'
For Riley, most of the feedback she got was overwhelmingly positive.
'I think it will have a long-term impact because kids who participated won't ever drink and drive like this,' she said. 'And with two fresh deaths of students in our community, this set in even more.
'I had quite a few people tell me that we helped them make the right decision.'
McCarty even noted that one kid told her she was going to drink and drive but ended up asking her dad to drive instead.
For all of its work, Oregon Impact was recognized at the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners meeting last week.
'This reenactment is very valuable and ought to be a requirement,' Commissioner Paul Savas said. Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Lehan echoed those sentiments. 'There's no better way to save lives and tragedy than this,' she said.
While the county recognition was important, the fact that the school had a successful and uneventful prom may be an even more cherished outcome.
'Prom went very smoothly,' Principal Scott Sullivan said. 'Talking to a number of kids afterward ... it had a huge impact on them and really made them think.
'I don't know if there's a tangible product of having them come here, but any time a student takes an extra minute or second to think about their choices and the impact they have, it's great. If one kid makes a better decision then it's worth it.'
For more information about DEFY, visit EstacadaDEFY.org. For more information about Oregon Impact, visit OregonImpact.org.