Parents hope mock crash will teach lessons to prom-goers
Magruder students reminded of driving dangers
As Col. Zadok Magruder High School students prepare to dance the night away at prom on Friday, parents and teachers are hoping they will remember lessons learned during a simulated drunk-driving collision just a week earlier.
The Derwood school held its first "Every 15 Minutes" program Thursday for the first time in more than a decade as a way to urge students to make smarter decisions when they drive, said Patty Winters, Magruder PTSA vice president in charge of programs and co-chair of the event.
The program was specifically scheduled a week before prom.
"I started this here to bring a message of prevention to the school," she said. "Now that my daughter's a teenager, I've become more aware of what a problem certain irresponsible behaviors can be and how they can lead to driving fatalities and tragedies that could otherwise be prevented."
The school has experienced a string of fatal and serious vehicle crashes involving alumni over the last year.
Nicole Lee, a 2007 alumna, was returning to her college campus with four other students from a ski trip in West Virginia when the car in which she was a passenger hit a tree head on Jan. 26, 2008, West Virginia State Police reported. It is believed the driver fell asleep behind the wheel, police said.
Jason Roth, a 2004 alumnus, was killed in a single-car crash on Nov. 22 on his way home from Damascus, said his mother, Pat Roth. The 22-year-old had been up for almost 24 hours and had likely fallen asleep when his car struck a tree, she said.
Kimberley Allen, a 2007 alumna, was seriously injured on Feb. 10, 2008, while traveling along Woodfield Road on her way to Damascus, said her mother, Janie Allen. The then-19-year-old lost control of her car, which struck a telephone pole and crashed into a tree. Allen said her daughter was not wearing a seat belt and was likely speeding. She was in a coma for seven weeks and continues to undergo physical, occupational and speech therapy.
As hundreds of students gathered in a parking lot behind the school Thursday afternoon, they came face to face with a crumpled white car that had been splattered with red liquid to simulate blood. Megan Griffin, a senior and student co-chair of the event, lay motionless on the street with fake bruises and fake blood covering her body.
Sirens shattered the silence and a group of Montgomery County Police officers and firefighters from the Laytonsville Volunteer Fire Department pulled the "driver" out of the car and led him through a sobriety test and "extracted" the other students "trapped" inside. One student would later be pronounced "dead" at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville as part of the simulation.
The program is based on a national model that began in the 1990s when statistics showed that someone died from an alcohol-related collision every 15 minutes. Today, that number is closer to every 30 minutes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The story behind the lesson
Winters said the story behind the collision was the students had been drinking alcohol at a birthday party and then decided to drive somewhere else to continue the celebration. The story was presented to students through a video Friday morning, which incorporated other dangerous behaviors such as speeding, texting while driving, and getting behind the wheel while drowsy.
As some students snickered during the simulation or watched in stunned silence, junior Kari Roth, Jason Roth's sister, broke into tears.
"Watching that just made me think it was him," Roth, who turned 17 Thursday, said. "When they laid the blanket over one of the bodies it was just really upsetting."
She added that she hoped students took the event seriously.
"I hope they had a good learning experience and know that this can happen to anyone," Roth said. "It hurts the whole family and the community, so hopefully this is a huge wake-up call."
The messages behind the day's events were driven home to parents Thursday night during a meeting featuring a representative from the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office, a doctor from Shady Grove Adventist Hospital and two county police officers.
Each told parents to talk to their children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, know who they are getting into the car with and not let them get their driver's licenses until they are absolutely ready. Montgomery County Police Capt. Thomas C. Didone, whose 15-year-old son Ryan died in a car crash in October, urged parents to be vigilant when it comes to teen driving. Ryan Didone would have turned 16 on Thursday.
"When you lose a child, you lose the opportunity to watch them grow up," he said. "They're forever locked into that age that they passed."
He said students often feel that nothing bad will ever happen to them and therefore they can get into the car with whomever they want or not drive safely.
"They all feel invincible," Didone said. "My son was one of them."
Didone, who has worked with the "Every 15 Minutes" for 10 years, said he applauds Magruder's efforts to educate students and parents through the program. Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring worked closely with Magruder parents on the event and will host "Every 15 Minutes" next year for the first time in about a decade.
"It's a message that can't be stopped and has to be taught, but awareness is only short term unless parents continue to reinforce it," Didone said. "That's what the key is — parents have to communicate with their children.