Mock crash sends message to drivers

News photo by Melissa Reid
News photo by Melissa Reid

Lights and sirens split the still evening silence on Water Street in Birdsboro on Tuesday night March 18. Onlookers stared at the wreckage as firefighters and an ambulance crew worked to extract two teenagers from one of the vehicles. Another teen in a bloodied dress shirt was led away in handcuffs and another stood off to the side. The coroner’s arrival announced the greatest tragedy. And several people walk around filming the whole ordeal.

This was not the scene of a horrific nightmare. This was Daniel Boone High School’s annual mock DUI crash, organized by the school’s chapter of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions). The two former students that started it all, Rodney Wagner and Tyler Neiswender, were volunteer firefighters. Both saw things they wanted to help their classmates avoid. The original project was simply to “bring awareness to the kids.” Seven years later, that’s still the goal.

“I wouldn’t want anyone I go to school with to hurt themselves or someone else,” Jon Matthews, a former chairman of the group for three years, explained.

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The students’ passion for stopping an epidemic of drunk driving impressed the teachers and officials around to help them. SADD advisor, Carmen Blanco, said she didn’t have to do anything to prepare this event because the students did it all.

The hardest part, according to this year’s organizer, J.J. Krystopa, was “getting all the people…to be in the same spot at once.” There were dozens of people involved. What started all those years ago with volunteer firefighters now also includes the Southern Berks Ambulance unit, the coroner, a state trooper, and, a couple of times, a helicopter. Of course, there’s also the actors, the cameramen, the support crew, and the teachers responsible for the students. Water Street had to be blocked off and donations had to be collected, including two already-totaled cars provided by Douglassville Auto Body.

Mackenzie Giunta, another former chairman, has “always been so thankful that the community donates everything.” This public awareness campaign couldn’t exist without donations from all over the community.

The public needs to be aware of the dangers of drunk driving. Krystopa’s character in the mock DUI crash yelled several times, “I’m not even drunk!” Even if a person thinks they are OK, if he has had a drink, his judgment is cloudy.

State Trooper David Beohm said that the Reading station alone can respond to as many as five DUI’s in a single weekend. Fortunately, these are not all crashes. Many times, routine traffic stops can alert an officer to a person’s state of impairment before a collision.

SADD “tries to make it more definite to hit home” every year, according to Giunta. “Most people involved had tragedies like this happen. [They] need peers to know the seriousness. This is no joke.”

A bloody pile of scrap metal was all that remained of one vehicle after the rescue workers ripped it open to free its trapped victims. The coroner and a couple of firefighters somberly pulled a still teenagers out of the other vehicle.

This may have all been an act, but it was certainly no joke.