A high school keg party ended and a young couple drove home in their Jeep. Another couple was heading home, too, but from the movies in a van.
Their vehicles collided head-on, killing the young woman in the Jeep’s passenger seat and seriously injuring the couple in the van. The Jeep’s driver, a young man bloodied from the crash, survived, but was led away in handcuffs after failing a field sobriety test administered by a sheriff’s deputy.
That was the scene laid out before juniors and seniors the morning of May 9 at Baker County High School. It’s a scene that school administrators and faculty hoped wouldn’t be repeated in the coming weeks as students celebrate prom and then graduation.
The mock DUI, as it’s called, is an annual spring event to showcase the tragedies that can result from mixing alcohol and driving.
Last year’s mock DUI, though, was canceled due to a real-life tragedy and the grief-filled aftermath that gripped the high school last spring: the death of senior Rashard Belford. He was killed on April 9, 2011 when a car driven by another young man involved in a fight nearby ran over him in southwest Macclenny.
The 40-minute program, narrated by Sheriff Joey Dobson and organized by the high school’s campus deputy Matt Riegel, included police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel who responded to the staged accident as they would normally.
They ran to the smashed vehicles, assessing the injured occupants and calling for the TraumaOne helicopter from Shands, which landed a short time later near the BCHS tennis courts. The couple returning from the movies, played by Colton Butcher and Jena Sands, needed immediate medial attention.
The staged wreck’s sole fatality, a young female in a party dress who was thrown thru the windshield of the Jeep and played by Kelsey Benton, was covered in a white sheet and carried on a stretcher to within about 10 feet of students gathered to watch the mock DUI.
First responders laid her body on the ground and walked away.
The Jeep’s driver, played by Kyle Ryan, was led by Deputy Allen Markley to the officer’s patrol car and given the sobriety test. The officer soon handcuffed the young man and put him in the back seat.
The program concluded with the next of kin notification. Police came to the door of the dead youth’s parents, who moments before were sitting at home on the couch.
As police broke the news, loud speakers played a pre-recorded poem from the victim to her mother. In the monologue she says she didn’t drink alcohol that night, but her “new boyfriend” did and she got into his Jeep.
“My new boyfriend is walking, Mom, I don’t think that is fair. I’m lying here dying, Mom, while all he can do is stare,” the voice said.
Deputy Riegel was involved in the initial planning last year before the mock DUI was called off. He said this year’s event, his first to manage all the way through, went smoothly and student actors, coached by drama teacher Sara Beth Gerard, play their parts very well.
“I heard from some students that quite a few of them got emotional about it, whether it was from something that happened in their own lives or realizing how easy it can happen,” said Deputy Riegel.
“I would just urge parents to talk with their kids about it ...” he said. “If they never hear that it’s not okay to drink and drive, they may very well think it’s alright, especially if they’re seeing other people around them doing it.”
The Northeast Florida chapter of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, has also recently begun planning a partnership with local schools.
For more information about its efforts, please contact Will Hobson, prevention program specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (904) 388-2455 ext. 7260.