Garner Cleveland Record

Staged crash hits at real drunk driving

A hearse drives away after a demonstration of the aftermath of a drunk driving class at Garner Magnet High School.
A hearse drives away after a demonstration of the aftermath of a drunk driving class at Garner Magnet High School.

Some students learn best by hearing, others by seeing, still others by doing.

A recent demonstration at Garner High School on the perils of drunken and distracted driving was designed for visual learners.

In a joint program by the school, Wake Emergency Medical Services and Garner Volunteer Fire and Rescue, about 400 juniors and seniors watched a skit where two students died after prom.

Real emergency responders used real tools to cut open the real mangled car to remove the fake victims after the fake accident. The students playing the part were covered in fake blood and put into a real hearse.

“Will it stick? We don’t know. But if it can help them think about what they’re doing, that’s the whole point,” said biology teacher Vickie Szarek, who sponsors the school’s chapters of Students Against Violence Everywhere and Students Against Destructive Decisions.

Szarek, named the school’s Teacher of the Year for 2012-13, said some students told her the message had hit home. She said one student told her that she texted her mother, “I love you mom.” Others said they were “not going to do that anymore” or “I’ll think twice now,” she said.

The demonstration was just another tool in the safe-driving toolbox, joining statistics, anecdotal tales and other methods of reaching students on the dangers of driving while texting or drunk.

“I think we do all of it, because different kids learn differently,” said Szarek, who thanked Wake EMS and Garner Fire for doing the heavy lifting on the demonstration. “Something is going to touch someone that doesn’t touch somebody else, but if it sparks someone to think about the decisions they’re going to make, we’ve been successful.”

Wake EMS District Chief Jeff Hammerstein said EMS pitches in on these kinds of demonstrations largely because of the number of times first responders have seen the real thing. “I don’t know how many times we’ve been to fatal teen driver accidents,” said Hammerstein, whose daughter played the female victim.

At such scenes, “I’m thinking about the parents somewhere that are about to get that phone call or visit from the police department,” the 28-year EMS veteran said.

Szarek said Garner High teachers and administrators, including principal Drew Cook, had been supportive of safe-driving events, including speeches and a video demonstration in the gym earlier in the day. Ultimately, she hoped the event popped at least some students’ air of invincibility – especially paired with real events such as the February death of William Lee Tippett in a speed-fueled drunken driving accident. Tippett attended Cleveland High School in nearby Johnston County.

“I think the message is that they think this is serious, and some of them will think about it,” Szarek said. “Hopefully they’ll talk to friends in the halls, say, “This is not safe; I don’t want to be in a car with you.’”