Kent students get sobering message with bloody wreck demonstration

Kent-Meridian student actor Hork Do

Kent-Meridian student actor Hork Do

The scene opens with the sound of a car crash and a curtain is pulled back to reveal two cars crunched together with shattered glass spilling into the parking lot and six high school students injured and bloodied.

One girl is slumped over a steering wheel. Her passenger is unconscious.

Another boy has been ejected from the passenger seat of the other car and is laying across the hood.

There is screaming and as the driver of one car opens his door to get out, several crushed beer cans roll onto the ground next to him.

Suddenly, another car full of teens comes to a halt and the screams multiply as the new kids grasp the scope of what they’ve seen. Their friends are injured or worse and it’s all because they made the bad choice of drinking and driving.

Police, fire and ambulances arrive on the scene, sirens wailing.

By the end, two are dead, five are injured and one is arrested after failing a roadside sobriety test.

Thankfully, the scene in the Kent-Meridian parking lot is just that - an act - put on by the Kent Fire and Police departments, but the scenario is all too real, especially at this time of year, when teenagers are out celebrating proms and graduations.

The “Gift of Life” program, given every year in front of the junior and senior classes at two of the Kent School District’s high schools, is designed to show the teens the potential consequences of their decisions and to convince them that despite what they may think, they are not invincible.

Statistically speaking, the No. 1 cause of teenage deaths in King County is trauma and the No. 1 cause of trauma is car crashes. In 85 to 95 percent of those cases, seat belts were not worn.

Around the country, there is an alcohol related fatality vehicle crash every 32 minutes, according to statistics provided by the Kent Fire Department, which has been doing the “Gift of Life” program for about 20 years.

This year, the fire department visited Kent-Meridian and Kentridge. Next year it will be back to Kentwood and Kentlake.

Following the scene, during which members of the school’s leadership team played the roles of the injured students, complete with graphic make-up, the assembly moves inside, where a mock funeral for the two “dead” students is staged, with coffin, memorial pictures and all.

Friends read eulogies for the teens who were “killed,” and who therefore do not attend the second part of the assembly. Following the students, members of the community who have survived accidents and/or lost family members tell their stories, once again bringing home for the teens that they are not invincible.

And while there are some jokes and smiles during the outside portion, it is stone-quiet and tearful inside.

After the eulogies, the students listened as Chris Graham, a Kentridge 2007 graduate told his story of being hit head-on by a drunk driver after leaving French Field early in his senior year.

Graham spent six months in the hospital and had 14 surgeries, though he is once again able to walk.

“Instantly my life was turned upside down and it only took a matter of seconds,” he said. “In a matter of seconds it could be you.”

All these things we do everyday and take for granted could be taken away because of someone else’s bad choices, he warned.

Next to speak was Pat Ellis, chaplain for the fire and police departments. Ellis told about having to knock on the doors of a parents whose teens were killed in a car accident and urged students not to drive or ride with someone who had been drinking, even “just a couple.”

“Celebrate fun, but celebrate smart,” Ellis said. “Because if you celebrate smart, you’ll live.”

But the most emotional moment of the day came from Eric Munson, the father of a teenager girl killed while she was the passenger in a car driven by a driver who had alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamine in his system.

Tears flowed as Munson related his daughter’s story.

“That crash was about exactly what you saw today,” he told the students, noting the similarities to the head-on collision that killed his daughter. “Some choices really do have consequences.”

Junior Balveen Purewal, 17, wiped away tears at the end of the assembly and said she learned she has to take responsibility for her actions and be sure not to get in a car with anyone who has been drinking.

“I didn’t know it would touch me this much but it did,” she said, citing her closeness in age to Munson’s daughter. “That could be me or my kid someday.”

The demonstration also affected Larren Wright, Jr., whose role was to lay dead on the hood of a car and then have a sheet pulled over his face.

“It felt so real,” he said after the demo as he sat by himself, clearing his thoughts.

“It hits you hard,” he added. “It brings it closer to you, like ‘wow, this could really happen to me.’”

For Tami Kapule, the Kent Fire Department’s public education officer, who with Stacy Judd of the police department organized the assembly, said that was exactly the message they hoped to hammer home.

“If it changes the life of one person, it’s worth it,” she said.

Get the knowledge

Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Tips for planning alcohol-free, drug-free parties

Kent Drinking Driver Task Force

Washington State Alcohol and Drug Clearinghouse

(information for getting help, information about alcohol and drug use in the state

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