News

Merrimack High seniors focus of mock DUI

Friday, May 16, 2014

Story and photos by LORETTA JACKSON

Staff Writer

The girl on the ground whose head reposed near a puddle of red was not dead. She was pretending. The image was a powerful one, a look at what could have been true and too often is true when teens drive drunk or otherwise distracted.

The play-acting was a part of an annual event, a mock DUI presented this year on April 17 to the senior class at Merrimack High School, 38 McElwain St. The event replicated the consequences of drinking, texting and driving.

The dramatization was presented by the school’s chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), formerly Students Against Drunk Driving. The name change in 1997 reflected concerns that teens face danger from more than alcohol abuse. Now, the peer-to-peer group, one with a nationwide membership reported online of around 350,000, focuses on underage drinking, texting, drug use, teen violence, teen suicide and other life challenges.

Information from SADD, www.sadd.org, notes a wealth of countrywide events including a No Name-Calling Week, a Teen Dating Violence Awareness campaign, a National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness campaign, a Kick Butts Day and many others that focus on nurturing healthy habits.

Merrimack High School volunteers undertook roles in the recent production. Seniors Meghan Steinus, Alyssa Hobbs, Taylor Gillam, Maddie Freed and Adam Floyd were a part of the cast. Bailey’s Towing & Auto Body and Majestic Motors teamed up to exhibit a pair of crashed vehicles – a car and a lightweight truck – whose gasoline, oil and fluids had been removed. Jim Bailey, owner of Bailey’s Towing, deemed them environmentally friendly wrecks.

Dan Bantham, proprietor of Dan Bantham Insurance, has offered sponsorship in the past and remains a supporter of SADD. He credited all who participated as having imparted an unforgettable lesson. Teachers Matt Davis, of the math department, and Amy Larkin-Perez, of the physical education department, were among those helping the students prepare for an impressive event.

An ongoing series of weekly meetings went into the planning of the mock DUI. Assistant Fire Chief Richard Pierson said the meetings begin in November and by February, the plans are well underway. Representatives from the Merrimack Highway Department erected blockades on the day of the event. The barriers aided in traffic control around the simulated crash site.

Bantham and others said that drunk driving can change a life in a moment. Drinking, texting, bending over to retrieve a dropped cellphone, making a phone call while driving or receiving a call at just the wrong moment can change a life forever, he added.

“My girlfriend in high school was killed by a drunk driver,” Bantham said. “My life went on and I met my wife, Kim, but no matter how many years go by, there’s a hole in your life that you never forget.”

The seniors who took their seats on a set of bleachers alongside O’Gara Drive initially were shielded from viewing the tableau of devastation. A row of school buses blocked their view but, soon, a broadcast began and the sounds of a party going on inside a vehicle were loud and clear. Heard by all was the laughter, the joking and drunken howls of a driver and the passengers.

Demands to pass another beer were heard. Exclamations about being buzzed beyond belief punctuated the broadcast. Then, there were cries of, “Watch out!” Screeching brakes blared the worst-ever scenario. A violent crashing sound indicated the collapse of raw metal crumpling like tin foil. Fake smoke billowed toward the crowd.

The buses pulled away on cue and the students seated on the bleachers viewed the mayhem in front of them. A girl, a passenger from one vehicle, lay lifeless on the pavement. She had been ejected upon impact and the driver of the same vehicle screamed in shock. The driver of the other vehicle, a lightweight passenger truck, stumbled around in disbelief. Hands to head, he cried, “No, no!”

Jill Deleault, a music teacher from Campbell High in Litchfield, volunteered and played a distraught mom whose arrival at the crash scene triggered screams and heart-wrenching sobs. She was restrained, screaming for her daughter – the girl on the ground who would never graduate, who would never again give smiles or hugs.

When the realization of the severity of the situation hit the drunk driver, he began to panic. He tried clearing the truck of evidence. He threw cans and bottles over the fence in an effort to remove the alcohol from the crash scene. The ploy was an old one that fooled none of the firefighters or police officers arriving to help. The boy was ordered by Merrimack police to perform field sobriety tests. He wobbled in his attempt to walk a straight line. He was handcuffed. He was taken to jail. He had killed a person.

The Merrimack Fire and Rescue Department, meanwhile, used the jaws of life to extricate another of the truck’s passengers. The gurney rolled toward the ambulance with its covered burden. Covered, too, and gently placed into a body bag by funeral personnel from Rivet Funeral Home & Crematorium, was the body of the girl whose head lay alongside a puddle of red.

Police Capt. Michael Dudash, longtime supporter of the student’s annual mock DUI, and other speakers commented on the value of making good decisions. Dudash said that the decision to choose safety is a personal one that each person in the audience has to make, every time the steering wheel is taken in hand.

“In a split second, someone’s life is lost,” Dudash said. “Sometimes, your actions affect someone just driving down the road – someone who has done nothing wrong.”

Senior Matthew Beck lingered at the scene of the mock DUI before beginning a slow walk back to the high school, where life would go on undisturbed, for now. He said the production made him think about the risks taken when caution is disregarded and drivers opt to take a chance on their lives, and the lives of others.

“It was very moving,” Beck said, of the skit. “I just find it shocking that even after people tell their stories that some will drink and drive. It could all be so easily avoided.”

For more information on the mock DUI at Merrimack High School, call the school at 424-6204.

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