The crushed beer cans on the grass help to set the scene at this assembly for students at Wiregrass Ranch High School.
As students pack the stands on one side of the school’s football stadium, they can see a giant black tarp — hiding a scene behind it.
Then, they begin to hear voices.
“St. Paul, I can’t believe you’re still drinking beer. How many beers have you had tonight?” his prom date asks. “I thought I was going to drive, if you were going to drink.”
“Babe, I only had a couple in the last hour or so. I’ll be able to drive,” St. Paul responds.
“I think maybe you should let me drive. You’re going a little fast. You’re starting to scare me,” his date continues.
“I’ll get us home fine,” he says. “If you’re so worried, why don’t you wear your seatbelt?”
“We’re almost home,” she responds, “and I didn’t want to get my dress wrinkled by wearing my seatbelt.
“Look out! There’s a car,” she shouts, and then begins screaming.
There are sounds of a collision, and the tarp is removed to reveal two smashed cars.
The drunk driver, bloodied, steps out of the car looking dazed.
The windshield of his car has been broken and his date is sprawled across the hood of the car.
She’s not moving.
The driver of the other car is trapped in her seat. Passengers in her car get out, their dresses spattered in blood.
As the scene plays out, Marianella Campos, a rescue training officer for Pasco County Fire Rescue, narrates what’s happening.
Calls go into 911 and emergency crews from Pasco County Fire Rescue, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Highway Patrol, respond to the scene.
While a law enforcement officer administers a field sobriety test to the drunk driver, emergency crews use the Jaws of Life to free the other driver from her car.
A helicopter from Bayflite swoops in to airlift another victim to the hospital.
The deceased girl is covered with a sheet, on the hood of the car.
Meanwhile, the deceased girl’s mother, performed by Enid Fernandez, has been frantically looking for her daughter. When she arrives at the scene, she’s told by the passengers of the other car that her daughter is beneath the sheet. At first, she refuses to believe it could be her daughter. When reality sinks in, she’s inconsolable.
As the helicopter lifts off, another crew places the deceased girl in a body bag. She’s then moved into an ambulance, which represents a hearse.
Ten students, wearing prom attire and white face makeup, walk silently behind the ‘hearse’ as it rolls away. They represent those who have died from drunk or distracted driver incidents. They will remain silent throughout the day — to emphasize the losses that can occur because of careless behaviors.
The event, called “Prom Promise” aims to heighten awareness of the potentially deadly results of driving while impaired.
The timing was excellent because it was held on May 20, the day before Wiregrass Ranch High’s prom, said Greg Finkel, facilitator of the school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) club.
“It’s going to hit home,” he predicted.
Students who helped to organize the event agreed.
“We’re using people that are well-known,” said Beliz Esen, a leader in the SADD club. “They’ll be able to empathize more, with someone they know, rather than someone they don’t know. As in, this is actually something that could actually happen to me,” she said.
Alexia Diamond, another SADD leader, said: “This actually happens every day. It’s not just in movies and TV shows.”
Jonathan Jerez, 17, also a leader of SADD, said the event will make a difference: “Being able to see the scenario, with people they do know, I think is going to change their decision making.”
Seventeen-year-old St. Paul Allen played the role of the drunk driver.
“This is such a serious thing,” he said. The event may not get through to some kids, but it will to others, he said.
The message is important, said 15-year-old Emily Snider, who played the role of the deceased prom date.
“A lot of people are lost. A lot of people die every year, just from regular car accidents. Coming home from prom, while drinking, it’s even more devastating,” she said. “They’re kids. They’re just kids.”
Victoria Stitcher, who played the role of the driver whose car was hit, said she knows that people will likely drink regardless of the dramatization, but she added: “I’m hoping that they’ll think twice and not drive.”
Olivia Speer, who played the role of a passenger in Stitcher’s car, said people tend to forget that those drinking and driving aren’t the only ones at risk.
“This can happen to absolutely anyone. It doesn’t necessarily have to be them that’s in the car drinking. It can be anyone,” she said.
Vanessa Reyes, another passenger in the car, agreed: “They think it won’t happen to them, but it happens so much. They need to see that.”
Kailee Barboza, another passenger, was glad to take part. “If at least one person decides that they’re not going to drink or text, while driving, we made a huge difference.”
The school’s two school resource officers, Cpl. Anthony Justice and Cpl. Patrick Cottrell, think the event will have an impact.
“If you have a real serious crash, this is actually what happens,” Cottrell said. “There may be somebody that does die. There are people that are flown out.”
Teenagers tend to think they’re invincible, Cottrell added. “They don’t understand how fragile life is.”
Published May 25, 2016