By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
BELMONT — When a Dodge Neon crashes into a Jeep Grand Cherokee, it's never a good thing.
But when this accident was staged by the police and fire departments yesterday as part of their Students Against Dangerous Decisions demonstration, the entire Shaker school body was able to appreciate the real-enough consequences of drinking and driving and driving while distracted.
"The full idea is to understand that as a young adult, when you make a decision, it can last your whole life," said English teacher Scott Hess, who is the teacher adviser to SADD.
Police Chief Mark Lewandoski and Fire Department Deputy Chief Sean McCarty set up the demonstration with cars donated by David Rogers of Belmont Auto Salvage. Three students, Kasey DiDonato, Elizabeth Nix and Jerica McCaulley, played the injured, complete with blood and crying.
Students watched as it took them 40 minutes to extract one victim from the Cherokee by removing the roof of the car and getting her on to a board for transport to the hospital.
The incident, so called because Lewandoski told them this was no accident, was played out in real time that include hearing the calls over the radio, waiting for police and fire to respond, and watching as a police officer, police are typically the first to arrive, assess each victim as best as he could.
As head of the Belknap Regional Accident Investigation Team, Lewandoski said Belmont alone sees an average of 275 car crashes a year with about 1/3 of them being serious enough to require extrication by fire and emergency responders.
"The driver (of the Neon) lost control because she had been drinking and we saw that her cell phone had just been used," he said. "That turned it into a crime scene."
"In real life, we would have locked her down for hours," he said, adding police would take up to 500 pictures, interview anyone they could find, search the car for more evidence and measure skid marks, noting where every piece of the car was found.
"It's physics," he said, telling the students that at any given time, there are four spots of rubber, each about 4 inches by 4 inches, where the car touches the road. "Once that 4,000 pounds of car starts going in the wrong direction, there's not much anyone can do about it."
Lewandoski told the student that the in the best-case scenario, the Neon driver would be facing two counts of second-degree assault. In the worst case, she could be facing two counts of negligent homicide.
After he explained that the law says anyone who is impaired by any drug, whether its alcohol, prescription medicine or an over-the-counter drug like NyQuil or some other cold medicine is guilty of impaired driving.
"If it says on the bottle that it 'may cause drowsiness,' then you can be charged," he said.
"There's usually a lot more screaming, a lot more yelling and a lot more people telling us how to do our jobs," said Fire Lt. Ryan Brown, who told them that in real life the time it takes to get a seriously injured person from a wrecked car represents the longest 40 minutes either they or their parents will ever have.
He said there were nine firefighters in yesterday's mock simulation. In reality, he said only three work during the day and two work at night. In a serious crash, it can take much longer to get enough firefighters to respond either from on-call staff or neighboring communities.
Students had a number of questions, some of which were related to driving age, and some of which were geared toward inattention and the effects of prescribed drugs like anxiety medication.
Hess said he would like to give special thanks to the Impact Teen Drivers organization that provided the T-shirts and picked up most of the bill for them as well as all the agencies who helped with the demonstration.
A Shaker student posing as an injured victim of a drunk driving crash is removed from a Jeep Cherokee after crews worked 40 minutes to remove her from the car. (Laconia Daily Sun Photo – Gail Ober)
Students look on as Belmont firefighters start using an extrication device to remove an injured driver from the mock crash. Students played victims in the demonstration. (Laconia Daily Sun Photo/Gail Ober)
Each student was given a T-shirt from Impact Teen Drivers that shows the most likely cause of death for a teenager by color with white, or car crashed, being the primary cause of death for teens. (Laconia Daily Sun Photo – Gail Ober)