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Head-on consequences

WLHS juniors and seniors see graphic presentation on dangers of drinking, driving


When West Linn High School juniors and seniors gathered on the school’s football field last Friday, large tarps covered a graphic scene designed to shock and disturb the students.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: BRITTANY PARK - Ashley Johnson is the last victim removed from the simulated accident scene.  Her parents, Marijean and Brett, accompany her on the short ride to the morticians car.The students were about to watch a SKID presentation, sponsored by Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue in cooperation with Washington County Law Enforcement and local police. SKID is an acronym for Stop Kids Impaired Driving.

School resource officer Blaine McKean delivered a pre-recorded message, promising that the assembly would deliver “no preaching, no sermons. We simply show, in as graphic of detail as possible, the consequences of drinking and driving,” he said.

Recorded conversation between four students — Ashley Johnson, Tim Harman, Cecelia Lewis and Hayden Coppedge — set the scene, as they discussed party plans and drank alcohol. Johnson refused drinks but let her cellphone distract her from buckling her seat belt as the students set out to find the next party. Harman, the driver, had downed several alcoholic beverages but insisted he was OK to drive.

The recording played driving noises, shouts and screams, and then the noise of a crash. After a moment of silence, students removed the tarps to reveal two smashed vehicles a few feet apart, with stunned victims crawling out of each car. One victim, Johnson, was unmoving and covered in blood, splayed on the crumpled hood of a white SUV.

The images of teenage victims involved in a bloody vehicular accident were horrifying to look at but impossible to ignore. The event’s timing — the day before West Linn’s prom — was not coincidental.

Captain Craig Lyon of Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue has worked with the SKID program for about five years. It is designed, he said, to “capture the moment” and make teens think about the serious consequences of drinking and driving.

“That’s what this program is about,” he said. “Wham — this is what can happen.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: NICOLE GRAY - In a simulation designed to deter students from drinking and driving, Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue workers remove a victim, Ashley Johnson, from the accident scene.The WLHS audience was mostly silent and attentive. Some students had tears in their eyes, and more than a few watched, mouths agape or with their hands covering their mouths.

On the football field, the “accident victims” milled about. Another car full of students passed by the scene, recognized the deceased victim and called her parents, who quickly arrived and identified their daughter. The police and firefighters from TVF&R arrived on the scene and set to work, administering first aid and determining what had transpired.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: BRITTANY PARK - Firefighters cut off the roof of this vehicle in order to free two victims trapped inside. One of the victims in this simulated crash was airlifted to a hospital.Officers soon identified the SUV’s driver and started giving him a field sobriety test. As Harman failed each section of the test, firefighters worked quickly but calmly to cut the roof off the second vehicle to free two trapped victims. A lifeflight helicopter landed in the background, ready to transport victims to the hospital.

Soon enough, the medical examiner showed up on the field. The next vehicle belonged to a mortuary, and Johnson was gently removed from the vehicle’s hood and placed into a body bag while her parents stood by her, stunned and weeping.

Crimson Wilson, a 17-year-old junior, responded emotionally to the accident scene, wiping tears from her eyes.

“I’ve been to parties where there’s been alcohol,” she said. “It’s really hard to think that could happen to one of us. It would affect our whole community.”

Johnson’s choice not to drink at the party made her fate especially poignant.

“A lot of people get stuck in that situation where they don’t have a ride home,” Wilson said. “It’s hard to have to call your parents. It’s worth your parents getting mad at you if it would save your life.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: BRITTANY PARK - Ashley Johnson's parents, Marijean and Brett, react with horror to the sight of their daughters body following a simulated accident at West Linn High School. The accident was part of a SKID presentation by law enforcement agencies, aimed at preventing students from drinking and driving.The “deceased” student’s parents, Marijean and Brett Johnson, said afterward that they were shaken by the experience of seeing their daughter portray the victim while they acted their parts as stunned and grieving parents. Ashley is the oldest of three children, and when leadership adviser Butch Self asked her to portray the accident’s victim, she asked her mother if she should do it.

“I told her, ‘You have a chance to save lives,’” Marijean Johnson recalled. She said that although her family is fortunate enough to have avoided situations like the party scene that lead to the accident scenario, the family openly and regularly discusses choices about alcohol and driving. Still, she said, nothing had prepared her for the sight of her daughter’s bloodied body splayed on the hood of the smashed car.

“It was just horrifying. Horrific,” Johnson said. “I had anger. Thoughts went through my head, about telling the boys their sister’s dead, about telling my family. I was thinking, ‘Why Ashley?’”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: NICOLE GRAY - WLHS students and parents worked with TVF&R, Washington County and West Linn law enforcement and other public agencies to stage an accident that graphically illustrates the consequences of drinking and driving.Their experience — putting themselves and their loved ones into the scenario — was the presentation’s goal. WLHS Principal Lou Bailey reinforced that message when he implored students to make safe choices.

“I have lived this too many times as a principal for the last 20 years,” he said. “I’ve been at scenes like this. It can happen. It’s very emotional for me, every time.”Bailey then shared his personal experience. When he was a junior in high school, he told them, two of his friends died in an accident very similar to the one the WLHS students had just seen staged.

“I saw it. I lived it. That’s why I’m so passionate about safe choices for you with drugs and alcohol,” he said.

Learn more about SKID online at skidprogram.org.


By Kate Hoots
Education reporter
503-636-1281, ext. 112
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