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Students, agencies hope to save lives

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By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

It’s a scene that plays out too frequently, at too many locations across the country: teenagers’ lives taken early, mangled in car crashes caused by intoxicated driving.

Many of these crashes occur only hours after the teens celebrate one of the milestones of their lives – their high school prom.

A group of students at Pulaski County High School and other area agencies are hoping to change that scenario locally. They are producing a film to make teens think twice before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while they’re under the influence of intoxicants.

Students, law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical personnel gathered in Dublin Wednesday evening to create a mock wreck for the film.

Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jeff Saunders said the crash depicted a carload of teens who attended an after prom party that served alcohol t-boning a carload of students whose party was alcohol free.

As the scene plays out, one student in each car is killed, several others are injured and the driver of the car at fault ends up being hauled off to jail in handcuffs after failing a number of field sobriety tests.

“Knowing that you killed someone because of a bad decision you made will eat away at you forever,” said Ellijah Booth, who played the intoxicated driver. “Losing a loved one, getting tested with the Breathalyzer and being handcuffed and put in the back of a police car, are things I never want to experience ever again.”

PCHS Driver’s Education teacher Sarah Matney said the video has an important message that will “hopefully save lives … that is our intent with this video.” She said she came up with the idea of the video about three months ago and her driver’s education students were onboard, so she contacted local public safety officials and video production teacher Greg Hawks and his students about taking part in the project.

The impact of seeing fellow students covered with white sheets as if they were dead certainly had an impact on Michael Sparta, who played a backseat passenger who was injured in the crash.

“I felt terrified and I was in the back seat. When I saw Casey (Reese) lying across the windshield I started to cry,” Sparta said. “It felt so real when they put that neck brace around my neck and wheeled me off on the stretcher. When it was all said and done I promised I would NEVER drink and drive.”

Reese played a front-seat passenger in the vehicle that caused the wreck. In the scene, she is killed upon being thrown through the vehicle’s windshield. She said of her experience lying on the hood of the vehicle under a sheet, “Doing this video made me realize how serious getting behind the wheel after drinking is. I thought something like this could never happen, but the video showed me it is possible.”

Rachel Hubble said she thought the project was “a really great experience. The wreck scene felt so real.”

Holly Riner said she hopes the video “opens peoples eyes as to how serious drunk driving is and how it can destroy or end people’s lives.”

Matney said one lesson the Driver’s Education program at PCHs focuses on “is that it’s not always about how the decisions in driving will affect yourself, but how your decisions may affect others on the roadway.”

She added, “Whether one beer or six … whether one mile down the road or 10 … you are affected and your driving will be impaired. Don’t be selfish and take that risk; if not for yourself, then for that innocent mother, father, sister, brother, husband, wife, daughter, son, cousin, grandparent driving down the road.”

Chelsey Gravely said the mock wreck “Taught me so much about how drinking and driving can put lives in danger. I look at things in a whole new way now. When I was in the car it felt so real. To see two of your friends lying there dead really makes you think. You are never promised tomorrow and don’t take life for granted.”

Savvanah Gravley said the project “Changed my outlook on life. I hope people take this seriously and start thinking before making stupid decisions like getting behind the wheel after drinking.”

Luke Williford said being in one of the cars as firefighters extricated them and removed them to stretchers “was surreal and showed me just how scary being in a drunk driving accident can be.”

Driver’s Education students who participated in the filming were Savvanah Gravley, Luke Williford, Rachel Hubble, Holly Riner, Elijah Booth, Casey Reese, Michael Sparta, Chelsey Gravely, Austin Leaper, Hannah Hancock and Sydney Burton.

Video Productions students were Sawyer Lancaster and Charles Earhart, makeup and production assistants/camera operators, and Zachary Howe, camera operator.”

In addition to the sheriff’s office, Saunders said others helping with the project, including providing the cars and hauling them to and from the film site, were Dublin Fire, REMSI, Northside Chevron, Cycle Systems, town of Dublin and Sheriff Jim Davis.

The wreck was staged in Dublin town square near Pulaski County Animal Shelter and New River Valley Criminal Justice Training Academy.

“I can’t even put into words the sense of pride I felt watching the awesome job our students did playing their roles in the Drunk Driving Awareness video we created, “ Matney said.

Hawks said they hope to have the video completed in time to show it to PCHS students prior to prom.