On Friday morning — the eve of prom night — Ralston High School juniors and seniors received a powerful message about the dangers of drunken driving.
After being led to the parking lot for a special event, students saw two cars that appeared to have been involved in a head-on collision. One by one, the students inside the vehicles came out, many covered in blood, crying and screaming. Soon, the first responders arrived, treating the injured, arresting the drivers and pulling students away on stretchers.
Eight students were involved in the mock crash, planned ahead of Saturday’s prom. Each student had a role to play in the accident: from both drivers, who suddenly realized they had caused a horrible accident after drinking, to the injured passengers to the student who had been killed by being thrown from the vehicle.
After the mock crash, students heard from several speakers who encouraged them to make smart decisions about driving and avoiding alcohol.
Todd Calfee with Mothers Against Drunk Driving spoke about the death of his daughter, Lexi, in a car crash in 2011. Other speakers, from the National Safety Council of Nebraska, the City of Ralston and Ralston Public Schools all reinforced the message that driving drunk can be deadly.
For assistant principal Joe Kilzer, it’s one thing to hear about this on the news — but it’s another to see the results happen to people you know, even in a staged event.
“I think people are able to see that it could be their friends,” Kilzer said. “It has a real-life impact to it.”
Kilzer was first inspired to bring this event to Ralston after observing a mock crash at Elkhorn High School in the fall, right before the school’s homecoming.
“We saw it out there, and we said we just need to make sure we do it here,” Kilzer said. “It’s always a powerful event.”
From the very beginning, staff members were on board with this mock crash, which hasn’t been held at RHS in more than 10 years.
Kilzer and staff members worked with Russ Zeeb, National Safety Council of Nebraska driving programs manager, who helped organize the event, bringing in the Ralston Volunteer Fire Department, the Ralston Police Department and the Nebraska State Patrol.
Senior Skylar Arehart was one of the students asked to play the part of an injured student in the car crash. She was first approached about it two weeks ago in a stage craft class.
Arehart was surprised by the idea, but excited for the chance to act out this scenario.
“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s awesome,’” Arehart said. “‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’”
With her face covered in fake blood, Arehart reacted as one might under such circumstances, crying as she tried to grasp what had happened. Her character suffered multiple injuries in the wreck, which left her in a neck brace.
For Arehart, the whole ordeal seemed like any other performance, until the first responders came racing across the parking lot for assistance. When that happened, it started to feel real.
Senior James Krist, one of the students observing the crash, didn’t know what to expect when the juniors and seniors were called outside to the parking lot. Students had been told earlier to bring a jacket for a special event on Friday morning, but Krist was not expecting what he saw.
“I’ve been in a car crash, but I’ve never seen anything so horrific,” Krist said. “A lot of people around me were getting a little teary eyed.”
Krist believes seeing an event like this playing out in front of students was effective in getting the message to sink in.
“It brings home that scenario to a lot of kids,” Krist said. “They’ve seen it in the news, but they haven’t really seen it in person.”
Perhaps one of the most difficult roles in the situation was played by Tracy Loucks, a sign language interpreter at RHS. Loucks’ real-life daughter Cassidy played the role of the student who was killed in the accident, and Loucks played the role of her grieving mother.
“As a parent, you think about this all the time,” Tracy Loucks said. “This is your living nightmare.”
Tracy Loucks was able to get into the mindset of a mother who finds out her child has been killed when she heard the sounds of the police sirens.
When she saw her daughter lying on the ground, she reacted like any mother would, crying and running to her daughter, only to be pulled back by police officers.
More than anything, the hope is that students take this message to heart: Drinking and driving can be deadly.
“The key is getting the message out to the kids and, really, to anyone who sees it,” Kilzer said.
“To watch our kids and how they responded, that’s powerful.”
After the mock crash was over, Loucks spoke to her daughter to make sure playing the role of a drunken-driving victim had helped the message sink in.
“Well, now that I’ve lived my nightmare, this is never going to happen, right?” Tracy Loucks asked her daughter.
“Nope, Mom, this is never going to happen,” Cassidy Loucks said.