When Prom Night Turns Deadly. . .
By Ted Waddell
GRAHAMSVILLE May 22, 2007 It’s not cool to be dead.
Or arrested for driving drunk and causing a fatal motor vehicle accident.
On Thursday morning, May 17, a mock DWI MVA was staged for about 300 10th-12th graders at Tri-Valley High School, a couple of days before prom night, a traditional rite of passage.
The message: Don’t drink/drug and drive.
As the tarps were removed from the two vehicles involved in a head on crash, the scene revealed a young girl dressed in a red prom dress covered in bright red blood who was thrown through the jagged glass of a shattered windshield, the drunken teenage driver stumbling around while two other passengers writhed in pain inside the wrecked car.
Meanwhile, the stunned driver of the other vehicle wailed in agony as she saw her son laying still on the pavement, emotions that later changed to rage at the drunk driver who sent the eight-year-old little boy to a trauma center.
He still had a feeble pulse after a NYSP Trooper initiated CPR, but the prognosis wasn’t good.
“I didn’t die, but both my legs got broken,” said Justin Kaplan, 18, a senior at Tri-Valley, who lost his grandfather and an uncle to drunk drivers.
“It makes reality more prominent, and it shows the consequences for doing what you shouldn’t be doing,” he added. “It was so real it was intense and brought out real emotions.”
Katrina James, a 16-year-old junior, sat in the crushed car while firefighters used the Jaws of Life to cut away the roof after protecting her with a blanket so they could remove her without further injury.
“It was scary because glass was falling on me and I couldn’t see,” she said.
Her reaction to the scenario?
“If I know somebody’s been drinking and they want to drive, I’m going to stop them,” said James. “I don’t want this to happen in real life to anyone.”
Sixteen-year-old sophomore Alan Moss played the part of the drunk driver.
After failing a field sobriety test administered by NYSP Trooper/SRO Parucki (the event organizer), he was arrested at the scene.
“I’m going to start driving soon, and this showed me you have to be very responsible… I’m never drinking and driving,” he said.
What’s it like to get arrested, handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car for a trip to see the judge?
“It was weird having the handcuffs on, because those things really hurt,” said Moss.
After Jenny Watson, a 17-year-old junior, told her mother that she was going to play the part of a teenager killed in a DWI MVA, her mom showed up with a friend as one-woman support group to watch the scenario.
“This could actually happen in real life; it’s not just something you hear about in the news,” said Watson. “It was scary.”
Janna Worden, the Tri-Valley Bears cheerleading coach, is one of the original members of the Liberty Free Theatre, founded by Paul Austin.
She played the role of the distraught mother, and driver of the car in which her son (played by Brandon Worden) was critically injured.
“My first though was this is what happens when we want to have a good time and act irresponsibly… kids thinking they’re invincible is so common”, said Worden. “Two lives were lost.”
Worden, the mother of three and wife of the local high school principal, had a few words to say about today’s permissive society.
“The mores and values have changed,” she said. “Now you’ve got Paris Hilton who’s going away for a couple of days (for DWI), Brittany Spears and all the top athletes using drugs… everybody’s getting a slap on the wrist.”
Lisa Wachter, a teacher’s assistant in the alternative learning center and freshman class advisor, served as event coordinator (along with Will Conjura, chief of the Grahamsville Volunteer Fire Department).
She noted that some parents “give a stamp of approval” by “condoning” drinking under the legal NYS age of 21.
Last year, Tri-Valley had a Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) chapter, but this year it reportedly got the budgetary axe.
A few years ago, former high school principal Ken Sherman made up a poster featuring photos of trees decked out as memorial markers to kids killed in highway wrecks.
“Do you drink/drug and drive? Do you drive recklessly? Do you fool around with your friends while you drive? Do you drive to fast? Do you race other cars?
“If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, you may get a tree of your own. Remember somebody loves you. Drive safely.”
Today, the poster is taped to school resource officer’s door.
Trooper Parucki was on the road for eight years before being assigned as Tri-Valley’s SRO several years ago.
As a road trooper, he saw a lot of traffic accidents involving kids and alcohol.
“I’ve been at plenty of fatal accidents involving students,” he said “It’s tough!”
“If we changed one child out of the 250 or 300 that were here today from drinking and driving, then we did our job,” added Trooper Parucki.