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Sobering lessons at BHS

A mock car crash staged for students tells the grim tale of drunk driving.

Half-sprawled on the hood of a pickup truck, BHS senior Britt Thomas shows a deathly white pallor, in vivid contrast to blood covering the left side of her face.

Nearby, Vince Palazzolo has gone through the windshield.

A grisly death scene? Luckily, not this time.

“How many of you knew Britt and Vince?” Luke Carpenter, operations chief of the Bainbridge Island Fire Department asks the student body. A forest of hands rise. “How many of you said goodbye to them today?”

Mock victims played by members of the Student Leadership Class were part of a staged drunk driving “accident” Friday morning, played out before students at Memorial Stadium. Fire and police units responded as they would to a real scene.

Before the event, students filled the stadium stands with the cheerful chatter of getting out of class on a sunny day. Soon after, the dispatcher call played over the PA, fire and paramedic trucks rolled onto the scene of the bloody two-car collision.

Quick to work with serious purpose, 15 firemen and paramedics examined the injured and unpacked medical kits. Police questioned witnesses to try to piece the accident together.

The still faces of students watched as firemen cut off the roof of the pickup to extricate Thomas, who later “died” at the scene. Coroners zipped Thomas and “DOA” victim Palazzolo into body bags.

Thomas said the impact of playing the victim hit home.

“Especially when I was put in the body bag with a sheet over my head,” she said. “‘Oh my gosh.’ It’s somewhere I never want to be.”

Organizers, including the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, hope students will take the “don’t drink and drive” message with them as spring break begins next week.

Junior Patrick Miller said that although he believes students are not as “ignorant” about drinking as portrayed in the dialogue, “It made me feel like I don’t want to go drink and drive.”

“When they cut off the roof of the car, that was pretty intense,” ninth-grader Stuart Thomas said. “(To think that you) can go to jail for life because you murdered someone,” alluding to the “drunk driver” who was cuffed and taken away by police.

Sophomore Callan Cobb called the mock-crash “scary,” and said he “kept putting my friends (into the scene). It totally made me think of the choices (we make).”

Injury “victim” senior Eric Vanbuskirk said, “It was pretty intense. It’s an amazing experience to be strapped to the board and taken away in an ambulance. Definitely makes you think twice.”

Last year on Kitsap roads there were 22 fatalities, of which 15 were alcohol-related, Sheriff’s Deputy Russ Clithero said. Most often, the driver is a white male age 16-24 years old.

The mock crash was the first ever staged at Bainbridge High School, and was produced through cooperation of the Bainbridge Island School District, the BHS Student Leadership Class, the Bainbridge Island police and fire departments, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office, Kitsap Coroner’s office and MADD. Gateway Towing provided wrecked vehicles for the event.

Marsha Masters, president of MADD of Kitsap County, said that Olympic High School has staged similar mock crashes every year since 1995. “They haven’t had an alcohol-related fatalities since then,” she said.

Bainbridge Police Officer Rob Corn said he hopes students leave with an understanding that drunk driving “has a wider effect than just those involved.”

“If you’re charged with vehicular homicide at 16 and your best friend (sitting in the car) next to you is dead,” Carpenter said, “the effects of drinking and driving can last a lifetime.”

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