At the beginning of the school day on Friday, May 9, the students assembled in the high school auditoriumwhere they watched a 10 minute video of their classmates socializing, drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana and abusing the substances in the name of a good time. But they also witnessed the tragedy of such activities – a head-on collision, injuries and death – the result of driving impaired that, statistically, occurs every 15 minutes.
When the film was over, the students assembled outside in the school parking lot where sirens blared in the distant as police, fire and rescue personnel arrived to a staged head-on collision. Inside the two crashed vehicles, students’ make-up bloodied bodies sat, awaiting help from the arriving rescue crews.
In preparation for the exercise, Mt. Hope High School principal, Donald Rebello, told the students what to expect when they went outside.
“This is a most somber occasion for us,” he told the assembled student body. “We have had, in ourcommunity, tragedies that could have been prevented. These tragedies have wreaked havoc in our community. This is not to scare you, but to compel you to stand up and be man and woman enough to prevent such a tragedy.”
The mock crash presentation was an effort among the Bristol Fire and Rescue Department, the Bristol Police Department and the Students Taking Action Against Negative Decisions (STAAND) group.
Two members of STAAND, Justin Ursini and Jacob Lebreux, wrote, produced and filmed the video, with the cooperation of the Bristol Police Department.
In the video, police officers recreated the process that occurs every 15 minutes in police stations across the country as an impaired driver is arrested, brought into the station, afforded a phone call to a family member and held in a stark room where the events of the tragedy replay in his mind.
“Just the feeling of it being played out, seeing it is heart-wrenching,” said Jared Sousa, the student-actor who portrayed the impaired driver who caused the crash.
In the parking lot, the students watched as rescue crews dismantled the two vehicles just as they would at an actual accident scene, removing the victims from the wrecks. One student was pulled from a car and placed on a stretcher. Her body, fully covered in a blood stained sheet, was placed in front of the students as a reminder of the impact that one negative decision can have.“The goal is to recognize the effect it has on the kids and families,” said Courtney Lancaster, a member of the Bristol Rescue Department.
Ms. Lancaster worked closely with the students in STAAND , beginning in November, in order to deliver a message that they could relate to.
“For the last two years we used drinking and driving as the focus. This year we decided to use getting high and driving,” she said.
While the message of don’t drink and drive has been prevalent for years, she said that the increase of marijuana use among teens has the same tragic effects as drinking.
After the realistic demonstration, retired Providence Police Colonel Richard Sullivan spoke to the students of driving fatalities. His somber message, delivered in an upbeat manner, communicated the seriousness and widespread effect of driving while impaired.
“The knock on the door in the middle of the night is that your loved one is dead,” he told the students. “Cops are trained to do that. It touches everybody.”
Justin Ursini was satisfied the way the film debuted. He and Jacob will re-edit the film to include footage from the mock crash event.
“If we can save one life, it will matter,” he said.