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Mock crash shows Peninsula School District students consequences of poor choices

Gig Harbor Fire & Medic crews load students into ambulances while responding to a simulated car accident at Gig Harbor High on Friday.
Gig Harbor Fire & Medic crews load students into ambulances while responding to a simulated car accident at Gig Harbor High on Friday. jbessex@gateline.com

In a scene straight from a modern nightmare, two vehicles sat twisted together Friday morning as bloodstained teenagers screamed for help from the emergency responders rushing to the scene, the emergency sirens adding a piercing background noise.

Even staged, the scene from the annual Peninsula School District mock crash is startling to the assembled senior classes from Gig Harbor and Peninsula high schools, who watch in complete silence as the drama unfolds before them.

The mock crash is the culminating annual event of both high schools’ auto safety weeks, a tradition held before prom and graduation since 1999 to bring students’ attention to the heartbreaking consequences that poor decisions can bring.

Nanette Tatom, prevention specialist with Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One, has been organizing these mock crash events since they began.

“It’s a time to celebrate and party,” she said of the upcoming weeks for graduating seniors. “We just want (the seniors) to have these images in the back of their heads ... it’s all about choices.”

It’s a time to celebrate and party. We just want (the seniors) to have these images in the back of their heads ... it’s all about choices.

Nanette Tatom, prevention specialist with Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One

While alcohol is a primary concern following prom and graduation parties, distracted driving and speed are also factors that concern Tatom and the other organizers of the auto safety events.

“Speed is what we see as a huge factor in this community,” Tatom said of Gig Harbor’s winding roads and sudden turns.

High speeds, combined with alcohol, texting or even friends in the vehicle, increases the risk for a dangerous situation for inexperienced teenage drivers. To bring attention to these concerns, the mock crash and auto safety weeks engage the high school seniors with a week’s worth of speakers, events, facts and events lead by leadership students.

Leadership teachers Kelly Indahl at Gig Harbor and Danielle O’Leary at Peninsula work together to inform their students of the dangers of distracted driving in the hope that they will make smart choices.

“When they see their peers (in the mock crash) it’s something they can relate to,” O’Leary said.

She added that the students who participate as victims of the mock crash are kept secret, but are generally well known students who their peers will feel a connection to.

When I got asked to do this, my mom was a little scared, but then she realized it would only help. It’s kind of nerve-wracking being in the crash. It makes me more aware of when I’m driving.

Madison Martinez, PHS senior

Seniors from both high schools were chosen to participate in the mock crash, with each group “driving” a different car. From GHHS, Garrett Ness was the “drunk” driver of one vehicle, with Sean Reemts and Annie Bassett as passengers and Bassett acting as one of the “dead” students.

Four PHS students where from the other vehicle, with Blake Cohoe as the “distracted” driver, Lilly Portteus, Madison Martinez and Billie Millie as passengers. Martinez acted as the “dead” student from PHS.

To bring realism to the event, the participating students are coated in moulage, or mock injuries and blood, to resemble the injuries sustained in their accident.

“When I got asked to do this, my mom was a little scared, but then she realized it would only help,” Martinez, 18, said. “It’s kind of nerve-wracking being in the crash. It makes me more aware of when I’m driving.”

Our goal in doing this mock crash is to get the kids as close to feeling an impact without actually experiencing it. We want them to make it to graduation and have a happy life.

Kelly Indahl, GHHS Leadership teacher

The mock crash is not only a partnership between GHHS, PHS and Fire & Medic One, but also includes the Gig Harbor Police Department, the State Patrol, Key Peninsula Fire Department and Town & Country Towing.

The assembled students witness firefighters cutting the roof from one vehicle to free trapped passengers, a GHPD officer perform voluntary field sobriety tests on their “drunk” peer and watch as the student actors are transported from the scene in ambulances, police cars and, in one case, a body bag.

Indahl and O’Leary said that they try to add as many different facets to the crash as possible, from drinking and driving to distracted driving to not wearing a seatbelt. The event ends with a mock funeral and a casket donated to the event by Haven of Rest.

I think it’s such a good cause because even if it helps only one person not drink and drive, then it’s worth it.

Annie Bassett, GHHS senior

“Our goal in doing this mock crash is to get the kids as close to feeling an impact without actually experiencing it,” Indahl said. “We want them to make it to graduation and have a happy life.”

For Bassett, 18, the drama of the event and her pretend “death” is time well spent in her final weeks before graduation.

“I think it’s such a good cause because even if it helps only one person not drink and drive, then it’s worth it,” she said.

Andrea Haffly: 253-358-4155, @gateway_andrea

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