Darlington High School (DHS) hosted a mock crash on Wednesday, May 1, the week before students attended the junior prom event.
A number of agencies worked in conjunction with the school to provide the mock crash event in an effort to illustrate to teens how quickly tragedy can unfold on the highways when one engages in risky behavior.
The particular mock crash scene that was demonstrated for the students of DHS was the result of texting while driving, but students were reminded that tragic accidents could be the result of all kinds of risky behavior such as drinking and driving or becoming distracted by others in the vehicle while driving.
There were six DHS students that were involved in the acting of the mock crash, with two of them dying as a result of the incident. The parents of the students whose roles were that of the deceased individuals were also involved.
Six DHS seniors were approached by coordinators of the mock crash during the planning stages and were asked if they would be willing to participate in the event. The students were Kyle Schulte, Claire Scott, Abi Merriam, Alex Schulte, Nate Fleming and Mallory Busch.
On May 1, students were called into the school’s auditorium and given an introduction as to what would happen. At this time students were not aware who the students were that would be acting out the mock crash. DHS principal Doug McArthur explained that additional counselors would be on hand to help students that were strongly affected by what they were about to see and that if anyone felt that they could not handle witnessing the mock crash they only had to let someone know and they would be directed to one of the counselors.
The mock crash began while students were still in the auditorium as the screech of tires and the ominous crunching of metal was heard over the sound system and then the voice of one of the students involved in the mock crash was heard to be hysterically making a 911 call.
At that point teachers and students that were emergency responders or volunteer firefighters had their pagers go off and immediately ran out of the building as if a crash had just happened in the school parking lot.
Students were then directed into the parking lot where they were met by some pretty gruesome images of their classmates seemingly involved in a very serious and tragic accident. One student was half hanging out of the passenger side window of one of the vehicles, while another had been ejected through the windshield of the other vehicle and was lying prone on the ground. Still more students were trapped and unmoving within the vehicles.
For some students these initial images alone proved to be too much as they ran back into the school shaking their heads with tears rolling down their faces.
As DHS students formed a U shape around the scene of the crash, emergency responders began to arrive and worked the scene just as they would a true accident scene.
One student was declared dead at the scene, covered with a sheet, then removed from the scene in a body bag by representatives of a local funeral home. This role was played by Claire Scott, who described the experience as seeming “so real” as she listened to everyone walking around her and eventually declaring her dead.
Another student was apparently loaded into an ambulance and rushed to the hospital, and yet another had to be extricated from the vehicle and medflighted out.
While this was all going on, Kyle Schulte, who played the role of the texting driver who had caused the crash, but was only slightly injured, endured the hysterical rantings and accusations of the girl who had called in the accident.
“I played the hysterical girl,” said Abi Merriam, “but it turns out I wasn’t acting. It was like I was watching my best friends die,” she said of being involved with the mock crash.
Towards the end of the presentation, Schulte was approached by police officers who then arrested him for being the cause of the accident. “I thought it was hard at first to get into character,” he said, “but it got easier as it went.”
After witnessing the accident scene, students were ushered back into the auditorium where they watched three scenes on the stage. The first was police chief Jason King and a local clergyman visiting the parents of one of the girls who had passed away as a result of the accident in order to inform them of their child’s death.
The next was an emergency room scene, showing hospital staff working to try and save the girl who was transported immediately from the scene. Students watched as ER personnel worked on the unresponsive girl, until finally giving up after realizing they couldn’t save her. This student’s parents were then called into the hospital to say goodbye to their daughter.
The next and final scene was that of a coffin at center stage. Students were then asked to walk up onto stage and pass by the open coffin on their way to the rest of their school day.
For the parents it was especially hard to be involved in the mock crash, to have to act out a parent’s worst fear. “It was emotionally draining,” said Mary Busch, the mother of Mallory who played the role of the student that died in the hospital. “With prom around the corner, I really hope this sinks in,” she added.
“We knew it was staged,” added Mallory’s father Kim, “but it was still hard watching our daughters die.”
John Scott, the father of Claire who played the role of the student that was declared dead on scene, noted that everyone involved with the mock crash did a very professional job, but that it was still a shock. “You’re just never prepared to see something like that,” he said.
The next day at school, the two students that had died in the mock crash wore all black throughout the entire day and Principal McArthur asked the student body to note how many times they passed those students in the hall or came across them throughout the day, and to really think about the potential effects of reckless driving.
Agencies that participated in the mock crash included the Darlington Police Department, Darlington Fire Department, Rural Medical Ambulance Service, the Lafayette County Coroner’s Office, Steil Camacho Funeral Home, local clergy, Memorial Hospital of Lafayette County and Medflight.