With sirens blaring, emergency personnel converged on Brandywine Heights High School’s parking lot, responding to a fatal crash involving students.
State Police, Topton Fire Company, Northeastern Berks EMS, and Topton Ambulance were on scene of the mock crash at 1 p.m. on May 2. The vehicle had rolled over onto its side and a motorcyclist had been thrown upon impact and lay motionless on the ground. Shattered glass was scattered across the parking lot and blood painted the vehicle and pavement.
One student was taken away in handcuffs for driving under the influence. Two others sustained serious injuries, they were extricated from the vehicle and flown to the hospital via Med-Evac. Another student was declared deceased at the scene by a Berks County Coroner.
While this was the scene of a mock crash, emergency personnel respond to real live scenarios much like the one that played out in front of a crowd of Brandywine students, teachers and administration.
“I heard some people laughing. This is a fun thing for you guys, but for us it’s about trying to teach you guys something,” said John Hollenbach, assistant chief deputy in the Berks County Coroner’s Office. “I just want to point out. This past Saturday, I had to go notify a mom that her 19-year-old son was not coming home.”
Hollenbach said the 19-year-old man was on his way home from college for the weekend. “His parents were expecting him to come in the driveway, instead it was me.”
Students responded with silence.
“It is a real thing. It does happen. But it is preventable,” said Hollenbach. “There’s a difference between an accident and something that can be changed or not happen.”
Drinking and driving, texting while driving, talking on the phone, paying attention to the radio are all things Hollenbach said they should not do while driving.
“It is preventable,” he said about accidents of this nature.
From the sidelines after talking to the crowd of students, Hollenbach said, “They are going to have to make decisions that are going to affect the future and it just takes some thinking and making the right decisions and they can all go home after the prom,” he said.
Hollenbach explained what it feels like to respond to a real fatal accident scene.
“It’s the worst thing you could ever deal with. For my office, I’m going to have to tell somebody the worst news that they’ve ever heard and there’s no easy way to get through that, to learn that your child is not coming home,” said Hollenbach. “Parents aren’t supposed to bury children.”
Lehigh Valley Health Network Med-Evac pilot Eric Hoffman hopes students take away from the experience that there are long-term repercussions of drinking and driving.
“I hope they realize not only what happens to them physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, but as well as what happens to their family when they have to endure the aftermath,” said Hoffman. “I hope it makes them take pause and seriously reconsider drinking on prom night or anytime for that matter.”
Hoffman worries that many students don’t understand just how serious an accident can be, that they can just walk away with bruises and go on with their lives. “But when the EMTs show them what exactly is done to them to save their lives, provided they do survive a crash of that nature, hopefully it makes them really reconsider, especially at the moment of truth when they are standing there with a drink presented to them.”
Topton Ambulance paramedic Gayleen Gerhart hopes the mock crash educates the students.
“So they know better than to drink and drive, to be more careful with their actions and think about the responsibilities of what they’re doing,” said Gerhart. “This is exactly how it would go if we were doing it in real life, if there is a car accident and people are stuck inside... These are all real life scenarios that we actually deal with on a regular basis. We want them to understand what it looks like.”
Brandywine chemistry teacher and Sportsman’s Club advisor Kevin Dolan said the Sportsman’s Club sponsors the mock crash the week before prom. Club members help firefighters set up the crash scene and other members serve as crash victims.
“It’s to remind them just before prom that they’re getting to be adults. They can drive now and they need to be responsible because bad stuff can happen,” said Dolan. “I hope that they’ll think twice before they drive when they are impaired.”
Dolan thanked all of the emergency personnel who helped make the mock crash possible. “It’s important to us to make it as realistic as possible and so we really appreciate that all these people give up their time to come help us out.”
After the scene was over, Sportsman’s Club students involved in the mock crash shared their experiences of being rescued, arrested or declared deceased.
With the side of her face covered in a fake bloody wound, Brandywine sophomore Darian Keller said last year she watched the mock crash and didn’t think much of it but being involved in the crash had a stronger impact on her.
“(I hope students) are safe because I’d miss them,” said Keller.
Brandywine junior Kallie Carter found the experience interesting to see the rescue process from the inside of the crashed vehicle.
“There was a lot more popping and moving than I expected,” said Carter. “I felt glass hit me. I heard them talking to each other and it seems like it’s such a hard thing to do and when people don’t appreciate it, it hurts because they’re trying so hard to make sure in the mock crash that all of us are safe.”
Brandywine junior Brooke Wengert participated in the mock crash for a third year. This time she portrayed the drunk driver.
“To be smart and not do dumb things. Make smart decisions,” said Wengert about what she hopes students learned.
Brandywine junior Alyx Berryman participated in the crash for a second year.
“They literally picked me up and drug me through the car to get me out. It was a very real experience. It was scary at first.”
Berryman said everyone takes the mock crash as a joke and people were laughing. “But it’s definitely a serious matter. Every year at prom you always see people going to parties. I know last year three kids got drunk and hit trees and houses. They don’t take it seriously and they really should because it’s not something to joke about.”
For the fourth year, Brandywine senior Lydia Jordache witnessed the mock crash in the school parking lot.
“For a lot of kids here, they have never gone through this before,” she said, noting that middle schoolers do not see the mock crash. “I think that is extremely helpful especially since we are all prime targets for getting into a car crash.”
Jordache hopes her fellow students take the mock crash seriously. “That they do their best to be safe.”