Mock accident triggers real emotions

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Pre-graduation collision claims 2, reminds of drinking, texting dangers

Power of Choice student actors, Spencer High School students Zoe Carlson, 15, and Abbie Brown, 18, receive final instructions before taking their places in an overturned car at the mock accident scene.
Photos by Randy M. Cauthron

A pair of cars collide near the intersection to the parking lot at Spencer High School on Wednesday morning. Students are alerted to the situation and pour from the school building to discover three classmates bloodied and battered and others sporting cuts and bruises. One lies on the ground bleeding with gaping wounds. Two others dangle from the passenger side windows of a car in need of extrication. One would die at the scene. A second would die later in the day on a Spencer Hospital emergency room table. The third sustained critical injuries.

The accident wasn't real. It’s a coordinated effort with student actors and volunteer members of the EMS response crew, local law enforcement, firefighters, Spencer Hospital and Warner Funeral Home offering their time to give the scenario realism. It worked. Students who came out of the classes, at first laughing and giggling at the sight of their classmates' performance, returned to class after the last body was identified at the scene then removed by Warner Funeral Home hearse, with tears in their eyes, lumps in their throats and their day turned upside down.

It was the start of The Power of Choice, a program that IDOT employee Amy Sievers and Spencer Hospital Emergency Department Director Laura Manwarren have coordinated for 10 years in area schools. Their desire is to keep area youth safe by exposing them to the real, dire circumstances and consequences associated with impaired driving and distracted vehicle operation.

Originally scheduled for two weeks ago, to coincide with prom week at SHS, snow and weather conditions put a monkey wrench in the plan.

The two-day program, which began with the accident, continued with a traumatic loss on an emergency room table with real medical professionals and concluded with a sentencing hearing that resulted in an 18-year-old senior destined for a 55-year dual vehicular homicide sentence. Today, the program concludes with a very realistic memorial service for two fallen classmates who will be eulogized by their parents and pastors before their classmates.

Power of Choice coordinator Amy Sievers reminds student volunteer participants that their performance sets the tone for the two-day event.

Tissues will be provided.

"We love it. We have a passion for it," Manwarren said. "We want to help our kids remain safe. If we can touch one kid, all this work and effort are worth it."

"Each year you get more passionate about it," Sievers added. "The kids make you want to help them."

Both ladies feel the first day went as well as could be expected and credit the efforts of those who volunteer — from the teen actors to the parents and volunteer responders — for making things work.

"Things couldn't have gone any better. I give it a 10," Sievers said.

She continued, "The kids are so genuine in their friendship with each other. It hits them harder because they know each other."

Emotions were on display throughout the day. Following the accident, students were removed from class throughout the day to demonstrate lives lost to impaired driving. At the day's end, the students involved were taken to hotel rooms for the evening, treated to a program, a dinner and allowed some time to reflect on the day's events. They were also asked to write a letter to their parents sharing thoughts about having lost their lives at such a young age. The parents at home, without their children for the evening, were also asked to write a letter addressing their deceased child. The letters will be shared following the funeral this morning when the participating teens and parents are reunited.

"Some of the parents, they were already a mess this morning," Sievers said. "We try and explain that it's going to be emotional. There is no acting required. It will come naturally. They don't understand how extreme it gets until they're in the moment."

For the kids, it takes some longer than others to "get it."

"At first, with the accident, we get a variety of reactions from no reaction to bawling and crying," Manwarren said. "But as the program progresses throughout the two days, it comes. We know it will hit them, late in the day or the next day, it will hit them."

She called the participation of volunteers and donors "unbelievable.

Manwarren continued, "This program relies solely on donations. We need food. We need materials. We need cars. We need hotel rooms. The community totally comes through and is so generous."

Spencer High School freshman Titan Coleman has white makeup applied as he was a member of the Power of Choice’s walking dead reminders of the dangers of drunk and distracted driving.

After years of impacting CC-E, Spencer, Okoboji and Sioux Rapids school districts, the program has drawn notice from the state Department of Transportation which recently named it the "Best Practice for Community Education Involvement."

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