“It may be a form of healing for each of them,” said WHS Prevention Specialist Lisa Frink. “They all had different perspectives. They told the students about their experience and what life is like for them today.”
One woman had been in an accident with her husband and then lost her son and grandson in another accident. According to WHS senior Stephanie Moonen, who coordinated the event for her senior project, the woman lost even more family members to impaired driving.
“That’s a lot of her family,” Moonen said. “I felt terrible.”
Frink agreed. “She was powerful. It was like your own grandma was talking to you.”
Then Sheriff Mark Howie, who emceed the event, introduced a trauma nurse from Vancouver who gave a 45 minute presentation with pictures.
“It was kind of gross,” Moonen said. “I didn’t eat all day.”
At 11:30 a.m. the students listened to an enhanced 9-1-1 call. Then they walked outside to find an accident scene in the high school parking lot.
Four actors portrayed a fatality, a drunk driver, a witness and a person that was severely injured and trapped in a vehicle.
Wahkiakum High school student Joey Moore was the actor trapped in the vehicle.
“It was all really realistic,” Moore said. “I got a chill every time I heard them cutting the vehicle to get me out. It made it clear to me that I didn’t ever want to get myself in that situation.”
The mock accident was followed by another video shot in April at the Wahkiakum County Sheriff’s Office and county courtroom, allowing the students to see that the trauma didn’t end at the accident.
The film included booking and sentencing for the drunk driver. The film showed loved ones finding out about their loss and the subsequent identification of the body.
“The assembly gave a full circle spectrum of the consequences,” Frink said.
The assembly leaders had another subtle lesson for the students involving semantics in order to denote responsibility.
“They really wanted to get across that if this happens, it is a crash, not an accident,” Leitz said.
Naselle/Grays River students left at lunchtime, and the Grim Reaper started making the rounds, pulling a student out of a classroom every quarter of an hour to symbolize the loss of life to impaired driving, statistically reported to happen every fifteen minutes.
The student would silently return to class, made over by volunteer artists as an accident victim. They could only interact with their teachers.
Moonen, who plans to attend Central Washington University in the fall, first approached Frink, looking for ideas for a senior project. When she finally narrowed it down to drinking and driving or texting and driving, she went to Principal Stephanie Leitz for approval.
Leitz had just spoken to a new deputy, Mark Hake, who had similar inclinations. She got them in contact with each other.
“It turned into this huge project,” Moonen said. “I was just going to have paramedics come in and tell students what would happen if they were in an accident. I told him what I was thinking and he used all his resources to make it happen. He did a great job. I’m really glad everything went according to plans.”
“We were going to take it to a whole new extreme,” laughed Frink.
The assembly was made possible by grants from the Wahkiakum County EMS Council and State Farm, according to Frink.
“There were a lot of partners,” she added. “The Coast Guard, local fire departments and EMS, the sheriff’s office, Cowlitz County Coroner and the school. Also there were the actors from Naselle, Ginger Hake and the Wahkiakum County Network, and counselors from Health and Human Services. Julie’s Java supplied coffee for all our volunteers.”