A fatal mock crash scene played out in front of Hamburg High School on May 24.
Hamburg Police Chief Anthony Kuklinski said the goal is to teach students to fully focus on their driving and not be distracted.
“Understanding taking your eyes off the road for a minute or two could certainly cause a crash exactly like this, where someone could die,” he said.
Noting that holding the event prior to graduation was paramount, Kuklinski said, “When they leave our high school and get out into the real world, bad decisions in the real world could adversely affect the rest of their life. This is the last message we’d like to send to them, make the right decision all the time.”
Hamburg Mayor George Holmes narrated the actions unfolding on scene.
“I hope that the young drivers who see this event today see the consequences of what can happen when they’re driving carelessly or drinking and driving or texting while driving, any of those behaviors that could lead to a crash and the consequences that may occur,” said Holmes. “It’s one thing to hear about it, see it on TV or read about it in the newspaper; it’s another thing to see an actual event that’s very close to the real thing and understand how the process works.”
Holmes hopes the mock crash leaves an impression in their minds to think before they act.
“If this could change just one person’s mind about doing the right thing, then we’re stopping them from doing something that might hurt themselves or somebody else and that’s a good thing.”
Students watched quietly as Hamburg firefighters used the jaws of life to cut open two crumpled cars facing each other.
Hamburg EMS paramedics assessed injuries and began medical treatment. Two students were strapped onto stretchers and rolled into a waiting ambulance.
Hamburg Police arrested one of the drivers, who admitted to texting while driving.
Another classmate lay facedown on the hood, she had flown through the windshield during the crash. Berks County coroners declared her deceased on scene.
Once fire crews cut the car’s roof off and were able to free her from the wreckage, the coroners placed her in a body bag and wheeled her away.
While being a fake death, the consequences of driving distracted felt very real as Holmes explained to the crowd that the coroner would now have to tell her parents that she would not be coming home.
“She’ll never graduate high school. Never graduate college. Never get married. Never have children,” said Holmes. “Now you see the coroner taking her away, another victim of a careless accident.”
Then, students walked back inside the high school, past a casket provided by funeral director Derek Leibensperger and a photo of the student killed in the mock crash.
Hamburg EMS paramedic Leslie Herring lost her best friend in high school and that is why she became a paramedic.
“It changes your life. You gotta drive safe. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t text,” she said. “What I want them to get is that death is final, forever... I hope that they see that the things that they’re doing could be dangerous, that it does hurt. They see a kid get put in a body bag and taken to the coroner’s van; they’re gone forever.”
Deputy Coroner Ron Peters of the Berks County Coroner’s Office hopes students understand that bad things can happen from texting and driving or drinking and driving.
“When you’re driving, you have to pay attention. Any distraction can cause a catastrophe,” he said. “The hard part with our job is going to the house of the family and knocking on the door and telling a mother and father or a wife or husband that their loved one is not coming home and they’re not going to see them again.”
Students involved in the mock crash were KyLeigh Dougherty, Ashley Grim, Brooke Bensinger, Logan Albrecht and Kiana Wright (mock fatality). Hamburg English teacher and librarian Teresa McCarthy-Wright, who serves as adviser for the Senior Class, Leo Club and Student Council, was the distracted driver and “killed” her daughter who was ejected from the other car.
“I think seeing the cars and the glass and everything in that real state, because those cars were actually in accidents at some point,” said McCarthy-Wright. “I was thinking about the people who were actually in those vehicles during a real accident. Then, of course, I have passengers in my car and my daughter is laying dead on the car in front of me and it was my fault because I was texting... We knew we were acting but then when it’s go time it actually becomes real.”
Kiana Wright shared her experience portraying the fatality.
“It was scary knowing I’m hanging out of this car windshield. They put a blanket over me... and I started shaking,” said Wright. “My friend started screaming and that freaked me out and my Mom was there and I started crying.”
“It made me realize how important that these medical people are to everyday life,” said Grim. “It was really scary. It made me realize not to drive distracted.”
“It was scary, especially being with my friends,” said Bensinger. “I hope (students) realize how serious it is and what can happen and how bad it can be. How quick it can happen. It can happen to anybody.”
While students were gathered in the auditorium, first responders explained how a real scene would be noisier, more chaotic and there would be a lot of blood and broken glass and very often gruesome.
Hamburg High School Principle Christopher Spohn concluded the program encouraging students to help each other, stop their friends from driving and texting. Take the phone and put it away.
“How do we take care of each other, so that this has become the show that we don’t ever have to do for real?”