BERLIN – With the prom next weekend and graduation activities not far behind, Stephen Decatur students got a harsh, first-hand look at the reality of the danger of drinking and driving and poor decision-making with a dramatic mock accident in front of the school yesterday morning.
In a program repeated each year just before prom week, Decatur seniors were called to a parking lot in front of the Berlin school around 8:30 a.m. What they found was a demolished car with a couple of their classmates, dressed in prom dresses and tuxedos, trapped inside and couple more ejected onto the parking lot. The injured students wailed in agony as police officers, firefighters and paramedics extricated the ones trapped in the vehicle and tended to the ones ejected from the car.
A couple of students were loaded into nearby ambulances, while one, this year senior Amanda Raymond, was pronounced dead at the scene. Funeral home officials arrived and put the deceased student into a body bag and loaded her into a hearse just as a distraught mother arrived on the scene. Finally, the driver of the crashed vehicle, this year junior Natalie Cheng, was administered sobriety tests and led away in handcuffs.
All in all, the powerful demonstration hammered home the important message about decision-making at all times, but particularly during prom season and the celebrations associated with pending graduation. When the mock accident and its aftermath were dispensed with outside, the students went in to the auditorium for an assembly, complete with a coffin on the stage ostensibly containing their deceased classmate.
They watched an emotional slide show presentation of the highlights of the deceased student’s life, including pictures from her childhood to her days in high school just before the mock accident, with the ominous casket in the foreground. When the strong visual message was completed, the assembled students heard from a variety of people who have dealt with the very real aftermath of a tragic accident, from local law enforcement officers to funeral home directors and from ministers to teachers and administrators, including Principal Lou Taylor, who has lost more than a couple students over the decades at Decatur.
“This is tough for me because I’ve walked along a roadside for a 17-year-old Stephen Decatur student who died like this and I’ve seen a crying mother like we saw this morning,” he said.
Holloway Funeral Home Director John Holloway outlined the process of making funeral arrangements with devastated parents, from picking a picture for an obituary to choosing an outfit for the deceased.
“You never recover from the loss of a child,” he said. “Families have money set aside for college that they now have to use for a funeral. They have to call relatives to tell them when funeral services are, not when graduation ceremonies are.”
Holloway asked the students to recall the video presentation about the deceased student’s life and remember how abruptly it ended.
“There’s something missing from these pictures,” he said. “There are no pictures of the rest of her life, no pictures of college graduation, no wedding to plan, no kids and no grandkids. Be smart and think about what you’re doing. This is not just about you.”
Veteran Maryland State Police Trooper-First Class Eric Lenz told the students about the difficult task of informing parents and families their child or loved one had died in an accident involving drinking and driving.
“I hope this isn’t the face your loved ones see when I show up at your door to tell them you’re never coming home,” he said. “I’ve done that more times then I care to think about.”
Another Maryland State Police trooper, Corporal Greg Melvin, told the students about a near fatal trip to Ocean City when he was 10 years old with his mother and stepfather. A car full of young people who had been drinking ran a red light at Routes 50 and 611 and was struck by the vehicle he was riding in, causing serious injuries to all involved.
Father Larry Hill of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Berlin told the students about how many times he has had to console families of young people killed in accidents. Hill was also the victim of an accident at an earlier age.
“The only thing that saved me was the reaction time of the driver who hit me,” he said. “If he had been drinking, I would not be here today.”
Worcester County Sheriff Sergeant Ed Schreier, who heads up the county’s accident reconstruction team, related his own stories about drunk-driving accidents and dealing with parents.
“The question I have to answer for your parents is why,” he said. “I have to try to explain why you were going 78 mph on Seahawk Road, left the roadway, hit a fence and died.”
Perhaps the strongest message of morning came from Ocean City Fire Department Captain Steve Price, who was once a teacher and vice principal at Decatur and continues to work for the school system. Price’s told the students of the selfishness of a decision to drink and drive because too often the decision maker is not around to witness the tragic aftermath.
“When you decide to drink and drive, or get in a car with somebody who decided to drink and drive, or you go to Ocean City and fall off a balcony, you’re dead,” he said. “You don’t have to deal with all of things we’ve seen and talked about today because you’re dead.”