Mock crash shows students the sober realities of impaired driving

The sober realities of impaired driving
Section: 
News

By Kristen Shane

 

It starts with a call. Over a crackly phone line, a hysterical girl cries to a 911 operator, “Come quick, there’s been an accident!”

 

Sydnie Nauss is led away in cuffs by Con. Glen Fields of the South-Bruce OPP Thursday afternoon at Kincardine District Secondary School. (Kristen Shane photo)

 

Through a public address system, the dialogue drifts through the halls and classrooms of Kincardine and District Secondary School.

 

The school’s 530 students pour outside the building’s north doors and crowd around the teachers’ parking lot.

 

Today, it’s not a parking lot. Blocked off with caution tape, it’s the scene of a mock car crash designed to show students the realities of what could happen if they drive while impaired.

 

Most students watch intently with sombre faces, arms folded, as Kathie Hackney moans from the driver’s seat of a red car. Blood oozes from a gash on her chin. She can’t feel her legs.

 

On every other day, Hackney is a teacher at the school. Today, she is playing a victim along with three student volunteers.

 

Her side of the vehicle is crumpled inwards from the impact of a green car that’s smashed into it head on.

As a police car, ambulance and fire trucks scream onto the scene from the surrounding side streets with their red lights flashing, emergency personnel see the passenger of the green car, Alex Smith, lying lifeless, his purple-bruised head face-down on the hood of the vehicle.

 

Emergency personnel get to work quickly.

 

“Can you feel your fingers or your toes?” a paramedic kneeling on the ground asks the passenger of the red car, Heather Girdwood.

 

Condensation fills an oxygen mask Girdwood uses to breathe. She is pale, her eyes wide and frightened. She is disoriented. She doesn’t remember who she is or how the crash happened.

 

Across the parking lot, Sydnie Nauss sits in the back of a police cruiser hysterically crying and thrashing her arms against the caged partition.

 

It’s her story that the about 20 emergency workers and KDSS Ontario Students Against Impaired Driving (OSAID) members want students to take to heart on this day, the Thursday before the Victoria Day ‘May 2-4’ long weekend.

 

“We’d like them to realize this can actually happen,” says OSAID co-chair River Roy. “We want them to be safe and make the right choices this weekend.”

 

Some students hear the message as loudly as a siren’s wail.

 

“I think it’ll make people realize that they should just call for a ride and not take the chance,” says Grade 10 student Megan Lowry.

 

She sits metres away from firefighters who use cutting equipment to snap open two metal doors and the roof of the red car, They pull Hackney onto a backboard and into the waiting ambulance.

 

“It’s really intense and kind of scary,” says Lowry.

 

For students distressed by the scene, the school has counsellors and paramedics standing by.

 

It may be an intense sight, but it’s one that Roy says may be more effective than posters or assemblies that students don’t take as seriously.

 

“This is more like: they see it and they understand,” she says.

 

“We were looking forward to it to be a bit shocking, so they can get the message,” says Ripley-Huron Fire Department firefighter Jeff Pollard.

 

Pollard was instrumental in pulling together Bruce County paramedics, Municipality of Kincardine and Ripley fire departments, officers from the South Bruce OPP detachment and managers of MacKenzie and McCreath Funeral Homes Ltd. to stage the mock crash scene.

 

Through his current volunteer work as a firefighter and having spent a decade as a funeral director, Pollard has seen this kind of incident too often.

 

What hits home, he says, is that “In small communities like this, a lot of the time we know the people involved.”

 

Everyone has a decision to make about whether to drink and drive, he says.

 

It seems Nauss made the wrong one.

 

She sits in the police cruiser as firefighters and funeral director Maryellen Pollard, Jeff’s wife, zip Smith into a white body bag. He leaves in a hearse.

 

Girdwood, too, the audience is later told, died after she reached the hospital.

 

Constable Glen Fields gives Nauss a breathalyzer test and reads her her rights. He uses a microphone attached to a sound system so the students watching can hear.

 

She is charged with two counts of impaired driving causing death, and could face a life sentence, the students are told.

 

“Both of these deaths were completely preventable,” says a solemn Constable Kevin Martin, community service officer with the South Bruce OPP.

 

Last year, drinking and driving killed 190 people in Ontario, he says. And these days, it’s not just alcohol and drugs that can impair someone’s driving ability, principal Deb Kaufman reminds the students, but talking or texting on cell phones and other distractions.

 

“We’re concerned about our youth,” she tells students, before sending them back to class to fill out ‘reflection forms.’

 

With prom coming up this Saturday, she says, “I hope that you do make some very smart decisions.”