Students at Whitehouse High School presented a Shattered Dreams event to their peers on Friday, March 9, just prior to spring break. This event “offers real life experience without the real life risks and is designed to dramatically instill teenagers with the potentially dangerous consequences of drinking alcohol and texting while driving,” according to a statement on the WISD website.
The experience at WISD began with a pre-recorded video of two groups, one of which was involved in a party scene while the other students were part of a study group. A 911 call was then played over the school’s intercom, after which the students filed out to the student parking lot to witness the staged wreck with first responders arriving to and working the scene as if it were real.
First responders of all types were a part of the scenario including police who assessed the scene and arrested the drunk driver, firefighters who tended to the victims of the crash, and EMS and air services from UT Health that transported the injured. Following the departure of crash victims by life flight and ambulance, students returned to the building where they were shown pre-recorded videos of the death scenes of two of the girls involved in the wreck as well as the booking of the arrested teen.
The initial idea of holding such an event came from Morganne Tomlinson who presented the possibility to her student council advisor, Randi Shaw.
“I just think it is super impactful,” stated Tomlinson. “I know I’ve seen other schools do it and I felt like it was something that needed to be done and experienced on a Whitehouse campus.”
“Because it’s their peers,” Tomlinson responded when asked why she believed this type of event would have a greater influence than simply showing a video or inviting a speaker. “I know just talking about it with some people; they got upset because it was people they knew. It’s one of their friends or people they see every day.”
Tomlinson originally approached Shaw in late August about producing the event and approval was sought in early September, according to Shaw. The student council then assisted in coordination.
Some of the actors for the mock wreck were student council members. Others were asked to play a part because they were known throughout the school and it was thought they would have a greater impact on the student body by their participation.
Tess Hamilton is a member of the student council, but is also well-known in the school. She was chosen to act in the mock wreck and was one of the two who were scripted to die as a result of the accident.
Hamilton had been among the study group and played the driver of one of the vehicles. Her part called for her to act as if she were unconscious. She was cut from the vehicle by firefighters and taken away by ambulance.
“It was kind of surreal,” Hamilton commented of her role. “Right before it we were laughing and joking. I was really nervous. I’m not an actor. My best friend was out there in the car right beside me. Whenever we first started I wasn’t that upset, but then she started acting and actually started crying.”
Hamilton echoed Tomlinson’s belief that the Shattered Dreams event would be more persuasive than videos or speakers.
“I’m in rotations for health science,” Hamilton explained. “I remember last year we had watched videos in class of different surgeries and different procedures, but going to the hospital and actually seeing it in real life was way different because of the sights and the sounds. I think it’s the same way with this. I’ve seen drunk driving videos, but it’s not as personal. I feel like seeing it in person has an impact on you.”
From students to first responders, the hope that the Shattered Dreams event would encourage students to stop and think about the consequences of drinking and driving or distracted driving was repeated and with good reason.
In 2015 alone, distracted driving claimed 3,477 lives in the United States and injured 391,000 others, according to information on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website (NHTSA). NHTSA reports 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving during daylight hours and teens account for the largest age group reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) catalogs distracted driving into three types: visual, taking your eyes off the road; manual, taking your hands off the wheel; and cognitive, taking your mind off driving. Both NHTSA and CDC categorize texting while driving as especially dangerous because it involves all three types of distractions. Reading or sending a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road approximately 5 seconds or long enough to travel the distance of a football field if driving 55 mph.
NHTSA also states the number of deaths related to drunk-driving crashes was 10,497 in 2016 which averages to almost 29 people every day.
“Being in the fire service career, you see so many accidents of this kind of nature and they are so easily prevented,” commented Johnson. “The whole premise of this is to show them the consequences of their actions whether they are the ones causing the harm or they’re on the receiving end, both have severe consequences.”
“If one kid decides not to drink and drive, this event today and all the effort put forth was absolutely a success,” stated Madison Johnson, Whitehouse fire chief.
The message is so important to Johnson and other firefighters that they would like to see the event take place annually. Johnson also praised Tomlinson as lead on the project.
“She conducted her business just like a professional and should be commended,” Johnson stated.
The cost to tax payers for the event was purportedly minimal. Whitehouse Police Chief Ed Morris reported that only time and resources would be necessary for the approximate 45 minutes of their involvement at the simulated accident. Johnson said he brought a couple of extra firefighters on duty, but some volunteered to help. The vehicles for the wreck were donated by Crow Towing of Tyler.
“I’m really excited and happy that it turned out this well,” Tomlinson concluded about the Shattered Dreams program.