"I never want to see anything like that again," said one shaken 11th-grader, as she walked away from the scene of an accident simulation outside Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central's high school building. She, along with her fellow students, grades 9 through12, had just finished viewing the scarily realistic reenactment of a fatal two car crash in which their senior class valedictorian was "killed," and three others fellow students were injured, one critically.
The onlookers, some of whom cracked jokes as they first filed out of the building, fell silent when the two cars were unveiled. Two of their blood-stained schoolmates lay unmoving in the "wreckage;" a third was moaning as she struggled to get out of the car, while the fourth, the relatively uninjured "drunk" driver, staggered about, trying to comprehend the carnage around him.
True-life emergency responders "came in hot," as one fireman described it. Lights flashed and sirens screamed, as emergency technicians and firefighters piled out of their vehicles. When the EMTs found that one boy displayed no vital signs, they gently pulled his body from the car and laid it to one side; for them, the needs of the living came first. Grimly, they set about the task of extricating the other occupants and administering first-aid.
Firemen assist attendants from Van Rensselaer Funeral Home as they respectfully pull a cloth body bag over the stark blue plastic containing the remains of the accident victim in the mock crash.
One of the girls was semi-conscious and appeared to be less seriously injured. She was stabilized and placed aboard the waiting ambulance, which sped off to the hospital, siren blaring.
At that moment, a Starflight Medivac helicopter from Jamestown's WCA Hospital thumped over the hill, touching down in an open area the firemen had flagged. The more gravely injured girl was quickly placed aboard, and the bird lifted off toward Jamestown.
While this was going on, Cattaraugus Police Chief Don Veith escorted the "inebriated" driver out of the way and administered a series of field sobriety tests. When the young man failed them, Veith and a state trooper took him into custody, handcuffed him, and placed him in his patrol car.
Chautauqua County Coroner Warren Riles arrived on the scene. Pulling back the bloodstained sheet covering the body, he determined that the boy was deceased and directed that his remains be placed into a blue plastic body bag.
Finally, a hearse from Van Rensselaer & Son Funeral Home (Randolph) arrived. Two attendants respectfully placed the "dead" youth's body into a second body bag, this one cloth, hiding the stark blue plastic from view. They lifted the body onto a gurney and wheeled it to their waiting vehicle, where they carefully placed it inside. As a somber-faced gallery of teens looked on, the vehicle pulled slowly away.
Meanwhile, law enforcement officers carefully combed the scene of the accident, taking measurements and recording data. Their findings complete, they returned to their cars, as, one by one, the other emergency response vehicles pulled out.
At this point, the outdoor simulation ended, and the students filed back into the building to view a series of follow-up vignettes. First, the "drunk" driver was escorted by Chief Veith to his "arraignment" before (retired) Judge Arthur Bills (formerly of Napoli Town Court). Judge Bills addressed the youth sternly, asking him if he was aware of the terrible consequences of his mistake.
A brief scene of the funeral parlor was shown, the closed casket on display, and a group of young people sitting in shocked silence, mourning the death of their friend and classmate. Near the edge of the stage, the "dead" student appeared, speaking "from the grave" of the hopes and dreams he'd never see realized.
Giving the event a terrible finality, the familiar voice of Steve Rockford, a newscaster for Jamestown's KISS FM station, 106.9 FM, broke in with a "news on the hour" update. Dispassionately, he read the names of the injured and dead, effectively reducing their lives and those of their friends and loved ones to just another impersonal news bite, quickly done with. There was not a murmur in the hall at the end of that segment.
As the program closed, the four "actors" filed onstage, so that the student body could see them. This is done at the end of each Starflight Mock DWI Crash Team Event, so everyone can understand that this realistically presented episode is only a dramatization. Counselors are available, in case some of the details cut too closely to actual circumstances of individual students' lives.
This and other simulated accidents held around the area are scheduled and coordinated through the efforts of Mr. Ron Hasson, Manager of Chautauqua County's Emergency Medical Services. Hasson and his office contact the various agencies that will be involved, coordinate the participation of appropriate personnel, and set the date and time of the event. He said most of their mock crash events are staged in Chautauqua County, home base for Starflight, and added that Cattaraugus lies pretty much at the far end of Jamestown's Starflight coverage.
Hasson said the program's success depends to a large extent on dedicated cooperation from the participating schools. In the case of C-LV, business instructor Sarah Zink and health/anatomy teacher Jessica Harper performed much of the organizational work.
Students write the scripts themselves, explained Hasson. In C-LV's case, the teens invented two post-graduation scenarios. In one, a group of teens attends a marshmallow roast where they "hang out," talking about their recent prom and just-completed graduation. The second group holds a beer-party, the feature of which is a spirited game of "beer-pong."
In a fictional twist, Jesse Newman, star football player for the school, decides to leave the marshmallow roast early so he'll be fresh for the Big 30 game next day. In the car with him is a friend, Valerie Lamphier. Meanwhile, class valedictorian, Ryan Andrew, sets out from the beer bust with friend, Autumn Bailey, to get more beer, and also to try and coax Jesse to come to their party.
In the horrendous head-on crash that follows, Jesse is killed outright, while his passenger, Valerie, is badly hurt. Ryan sustains only scrapes and bruises, but is arrested at the scene for DWI, while his passenger, Autumn, is critically injured and ends up being air-lifted to the hospital.
Participating in the event were the following response services: the Cattaraugus Area Fire Department, the Otto Fire District Ambulance Service (called at the last moment to fill in when the Cattaraugus Ambulance had to respond to a real medical emergency), the Cattaraugus Police Department, the Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Department, and the New York State Police.
In addition, retired Judge Art Bills, Chautauqua County Coroner Warren Riles, and representatives from Van Renssalaer & Son Funeral Home and KISS Radio, 106.9 FM contributed to the realism of the presentation. Jim Gunsolus, owner of The Bone Yard Salvage, supplied and towed in the two cars used in the simulation.
Said Hasson, "Representatives from many organizations, including MADD and SADD, have worked together on the most effective way of presenting this program." Hasson, a paramedic with the Starflight Service, is the chief coordinator, while his co-coordinator is Lieutenant James Quattrone, of the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Department. They've been staging these mock crashes for fourteen years.
"We don't lecture at the students," said Hasson in summary. "We present information, and hopefully they'll make good choices."