In a scenario that felt all too real, Centennial High School (CHS) juniors and seniors found out what it would be like to lose one of their own in a simulated mock crash.
Arrive Alive, which began in 2009, challenges students to think about distracted driving, the responsibility of making mature decisions, and the consequences of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
In an effort to make an impact right before prom, the two-day event was held April 23-24. At the end of the program, CHS Principal Tom Breuning told the students, “You have seen with this program how drinking and driving and distracted driving can affect your life, your family, friends, the community. If and when you are in that decision-making situation, what will you do?”
As the program began, the Grim Reaper appeared in classrooms and pulled students out of class who later die in the crash. During the simulation, a 911 call triggers an emergency response from law enforcement including police officers, firefighters, paramedics and a medical helicopter.
After the staged crash, which was caused by a combination of impaired and distracted driving, paramedics treated several injured students. A seriously injured student who was struck by a drunk driver while crossing the road was transported to the hospital by ambulance but was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital. A second student died on scene after being thrown through a windshield following a head-on collision caused by a driver who was distracted by a cell phone. The third student was arrested for drunk driving and
taken to jail, and the fourth student, who was distracted behind the wheel while on their phone, was also arrested. The simulation ended as the second student was pronounced dead and transported in a hearse.
Senior Nate Schoolmeesters, son of Tom and Kellie Schoolmeesters of Circle Pines, played the role of a drunk student who is struck and killed by a drunk driver while attempting to cross the road. “I was that kid that doesn't know how to control himself when he is drunk,” he said. Nate wanted to participate in the mock crash largely due to a personal connection. Tom’s high school girlfriend was struck and killed by a drunk driver while trying to cross the road. The simulation felt all too real for both Nate and his parents.
“Even though it was staged, there were still real feelings and emotions that we could not control. It was so real,” Tom said. Nate added, “It was real for me, too. They were doing every medical thing you could think of on me, acting like I was actually a patient. It was pretty hard to see my parents experience that, but it was also a good reminder for our family to love each other while we can because stuff like this does happen.”
Both Nate and his parents hope the experience will drive home the message that tragedy can happen to anyone. “You don't think it can happen to you, but it can happen to you, or your best friend, girlfriend, sibling. It happens far too often,” Tom said.
Nate added, “It can happen to anybody and it is not worth that one text, Snapchat, changing the song, being on the phone or drinking.”
Following the day of the crash, students and their families along with the rest of the student body gathered in the auditorium to hear from guest speakers, including Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo, Blaine Police Chief Brian Podany and MADD speaker Gina Calistro as well as the parents who lost children in the mock crash.
Podany shared the story about Blaine Police Officer Steve Nanney and his wife Susie, who were riding a motorcycle in June 2016 when they were struck and killed by a 17-year-old driver who was on her cell phone.
“I responded to the scene and before I even got to them, I saw the truck that had hit them. I could clearly see the truck had come into their lane and it was obvious it hit them head on. As I continued walking through the scene heading to Steve and Susie to be with them one last time, I could see a 17-year-old with her head in her hands, crying. I knew right then that she was the one who had killed them,” he recalled.
“That incident sucked the life out of our department, out of our community. I couldn't believe I was standing there at the scene with Steve who, less than two months prior, had been standing on a stage just like this at Blaine High School doing exactly what we are doing. He worked so hard to try to educate our youth about the dangers of distracted and impaired driving, and here he was killed by the exact same thing.”
Podany shared some stats from Blaine from January 2018 through April 15, 2019. The department has:
Executed a total of 13,720 traffic stops resulting in 770 arrests.
Issued close to 5,000 citations, over 11,000 warnings and we have had a total of 357 DUIs.
Issued almost 900 distracted driving texting citations.
Noted that texting or distracted driving citations have doubled every year for the last four years.
“Those numbers are staggering, and that is just in Blaine,” he said. “Drinking and distracted driving can and does destroy lives. In Blaine, we are committed to putting an end to the tragedies that occur as a result of dangerous behaviors.”
Jeff Ramacher, father of mock crash participant Katelyn Ramacher, applauded the school district and law enforcement agencies involved in the event.
“Having worked in law enforcement for over 20 years,” Ramacher said, “I have seen, firsthand, the impact that impaired and distracted driving has on families. The visual and emotional impact the Arrive Alive program brings hopefully will deter these students from getting in that car with an impaired driver or picking up that phone to answer a text ... Tragedy can happen to any family. It does not discriminate.”
Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.