Tunkhannock Area High School seniors saw how one poor decision could lead to devastating consequences Monday morning with a drunk driving vehicle crash simulation.
The simulation depicted four students in a car together after prom, but TA High School Principal Todd Bosscher made it clear to the senior class that the events played out before them could be any average weekend night in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Ahead of the simulation, students gathered in the auditorium and listened to a real 911 dispatch drill detailing a late night two-car motor vehicle accident with injuries to set the scene.
They headed outside to the parking lot to see four of their fellow students act as victims of the crash as fire trucks, ambulances and police cars rushed onto the scene.
In the mock crash, Curtis Christ was driving his classmates Liz Ronca, Shane Sherwood and Grace Harding after their prom when he struck another vehicle containing a mother and her six-year-old son.
Christ escaped with minor injuries, but had to watch as emergency personnel worked to extract the other crash victims from the wrecked vehicles.
Tunkhannock Township Police Chief Edward Morristell narrated the scenario, describing each step of the process to students.
This included emergency personnel using the jaws of life to rescue people from the vehicles, EMS workers transporting the injured to the hospital and the county coroner taking photographs of the deceased.
Once the crash portion of the simulation wrapped up, students witnessed the further consequences of driving drunk as Christ underwent a field sobriety test and got taken away in handcuffs to complete additional tests at the Tunkhannock Township Police Station.
Bosscher told students the rest of the story once they returned to the auditorium, showing actual photos of the student actors in certain scenarios.
EMS workers transported Ronca to Tyler Memorial Hospital, and she was in stable condition.
“She will carry that with her for the rest of her life, no doubt,” Bosscher said.
Sherwood was in critical condition and would have been life-flighted if the weather was better. Instead, he had to endure a longer commute to the hospital in an ambulance.
“We hope he makes it,” Bosscher said.
Meanwhile, Christ was fingerprinted and given a more sophisticated blood alcohol content test at the police station.
Afterwards, he was charged with vehicular homicide and driving under the influence. Next, he was brought to the county jail, where he was placed in custody.
Unlike her classmates who still have their lives, Harding was on her way to the morgue.
While the simulation only lasted 34 minutes, Bosscher said the effects would last far longer if this was real life.
“That’s a lifetime of grief for Grace Harding’s family. That is a lifetime of litigation for Curtis Christ,” he said. “That is months, if not a lifetime of recovery for Shane Sherwood. That is months of recovery for Liz Ronca.”
Twenty-nine students in the auditorium wore white tee-shirts on Monday to signify the 29 alcohol and vehicle-related incidents that occur in Pennsylvania each day.
“It’s a staggering number,” Bosscher said, noting that the TA School District is fortunate so far to not have one of these incidents directly affect its student body.
“I do not want that to be you or anybody in this building,” he told the senior class. “This is an opportunity for you to save a life. That is an empty seat at graduation, God forbid.”
The principal also took time to thank the following for their help with the simulation: Tunkhannock Township Police, Tunkhannock Borough Police, Pennsylvania State Police, Mile Hill Collision, Wyoming County Coroner’s Office, Tyler Hospital Emergency Room, Commonweath Health, Guthrie, Triton Hose Company, District Judge David K. Plummer’s office, Tunkhannock Community Ambulance Association, Wyoming County 911, Wyoming County Emergency Management Agency, Wyoming County Correctional Facility, and volunteer actors.
Sergeant Mike Joyce of the Pennsylvania State Police elaborated further on the impacts of poor decisions behind the wheel.
Joyce specializes in crash reconstruction and said the term “accident” isn’t used in a situation where someone drove impaired or distracted. He played a video showing numerous wrecked vehicles.
“All these are crashes,” Joyce said. “They’re not intentional, but they’re bad decisions that were made seconds, minutes, hours or even days prior to the crash that led up to someone’s death.”
He showed students a slideshow of fatal or near-fatal crashes, which ended with drivers being charged and later sentenced to prison time.
Some were alcohol-related, but others had to do with driving under the influence of drugs or just driving distracted. (E.g. Texting and driving.)
“We keep talking about alcohol, but a majority of my crashes now are drugs and distracted driving,” he said.
The state trooper also used the presentation as an opportunity to remind students to wear their seatbelts, as they work in conjunction with airbags, leave room between vehicles in stop traffic and take note of items like backpacks that could become “flying projectiles” during an accident if not strapped in.
Vehicles released after 2012 can also “tattle on you,” he said, as they are capable of showing details such as how many miles per hour you were travelling right before a crash.
Joyce brought up a Wayne County crash from 2014 where three teenagers were killed while an unlicensed 15-year-old girl was behind the wheel.
The girl’s father was sentenced to a minimum of six and a half years in prison for allowing her to drive without a license. Joyce said the judge’s words from the father’s sentencing sum up all of the crashes discussed that day.
“Reckless, irresponsible, stupid, preventable and selfish.”