A mock car crash at Lakeville North High School May 5 provided an eye-opening visual of the tragedy that can occur when driving distracted or under the influence.
Juniors and seniors flooded the hill connecting the student and staff parking lots, many sitting on blankets with arms wrapped around one another as they watched the “crash” unfold. James Backstrom, Dakota County attorney, kicked off the event with a warning filled with statistics about the dangers of alcohol and drug-impaired driving as well as distracted driving.
“What you are about to see is real life, and in fact, happens all too frequently. Thirty-seven people die every day in America as a result of an alcohol or drug-impaired or distracted driver,” Backstrom said. “The simple fact of the matter is that drunk driving, and impaired driving and distracted driving kill and cripple more people than any other crime in our nation.”
When Backstrom was done speaking to the students, a loud crash followed by screaming sounded over speakers and the event began.
The simulated crash scene involved a car driven by an intoxicated high schooler carrying three other students from post-prom festivities. They collided head-on with a sports utility vehicle carrying a dad, mom and young child. The child was flung from the SUV, unresponsive on the pavement next to the SUV, the mom moderately injured and the dad sustained minor injuries but was able to get out of the SUV.
In the car carrying the suspected impaired driver and the other students, the front passenger was ejected through the windshield and unresponsive lying on the hood of the car. Two injured young women were in the backseat, unable to escape. The driver was able to get out of the car and had minor injuries.
Taber Akin, Eastview Elementary principal and a district chief of the Lakeville Fire Department, and Lakeville Police Officer Andy Hentges, narrated as the scene unfolded. During the demonstration, Lakeville police, Lakeville firefighters, emergency personnel and Minnesota State Patrol responded, arriving in a flurry of emergency vehicles. The “impaired driver” — who was also found with “marijuana” — was arrested, and the injured were treated and put into ambulances. One critically injured teen was retrieved by a North Memorial Air Care helicopter and the dead — a child and one teenager — were loaded into a hearse and van from White Funeral Home.
Many students discussed how the event made them feel, including how it brought them to tears.
“It was really moving. They did a good job of showing the effects of distracted driving — kids our age think they’re invincible, but they’re not,” said Kaleigh Forbes, a LNHS senior who put the makeup on the actors.
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for Minnesota teenagers, primarily due to inexperience behind the wheel, poor seat belt use, and risk-taking behaviors such as speeding, distracted driving as well as alcohol and drug use.
“Be smart and be careful. This could happen to anyone,” said Chris Earles, LNHS student council president and the “intoxicated driver” in this mock accident. “This is what needed to be seen by our student body. You don’t think of these choices and how they’ll affect other lives until you see it play out.”
LNHS senior Maya Saatzer had some advice for her peers.
“Don’t drive distracted. Just drive and get there,” said Saatzer. “You have to realize you’re impacting others’ lives, it’s not just your life on the road.”
After the hearses departed, three chairs with boys’ clothing draped over them were set out. Connie and Nathan Backstrom spoke to the teens about the day their world came crashing down.
On Oct. 10, 2004, three of their five sons — Matthew, 20; Jacob, 17; and Justin, 16 — died after an intoxicated driver hit their car head-on just outside Farmington. The Backstrom boys had left home to run a quick errand at a nearby Wal-Mart. On their way back, they were hit and killed by 22-year-old Boe Barlage, who was drunk and on his cellphone at the time of the crash. He was convicted in 2005 for three felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide, and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
“I look at you and see incredible potential,” Connie told LNHS students. “But, your choices matter, and there are consequences for the choices we make.”
“You need to decide — what is more important to you? Alcohol and drugs or the people in your life, school and community?” said Nathan. “What kinds of choices will you make for this weekend? The prom? The rest of the year? The rest of your life? The choice is yours.”
Both Lakeville North and Lakeville South high schools participate in the mock car crash and take turns hosting the event, said Lisa Holien, District Student Services coordinator, who co-led this event with Judy Johnson, district and community prevention specialist. Among the actors were members of the school’s SADD chapter, local SiebenCarey personal injury attorney Art Kosieradzki, and Pam McNutt, Community Education enrichment coordinator.
“I have a passion for preventing what we can so people don’t have these incredible losses in their lives,” Holien said.