Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 22
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
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Simulated Car Accident Is Wake-Up Call Staged for High School Juniors and Seniors

Ellen Gilbert

A young woman posing as a fatality, lots of fake blood, sobbing friends, a student playing a tipsy driver, and an actual hearse all lent verisimilitude to a car crash staged last week to impress Princeton High School (PHS) juniors, seniors, and other area students with the dangers of driving and drinking.

PHS Dean Diana Lygas was impressed even before the 45-minute demonstration on Walnut Lane had begun, noting the remarkable partnership that went into preparing the event, which included representatives from school administration, the two municipalities’ police departments, fire department, the rescue squad, and student volunteers from Corner House.

Staged every two years in time for the celebratory prom and graduation season, the exercise includes each detail of a potential scenario, from the first 911 dispatch call, to Principal Gary Snyder’s concluding reading of the student fatality’s obit. This is the fourth time the event has been held.

“It’s meant to clearly bring home the message of the importance of safety,” said school Superintendent Judy Wilson at last week’s Board of Education meeting. “We want that lesson to last a full, long lifetime for our juniors and seniors. It’s one of the most important messages we can give.”

“It’s disruptive and gets you out of class,” observed Mr. Snyder in his comments to the students, “but everyone thinks this is important.”

“It is very powerful,” said Corner House board member Wendy Jolley, noting that participants this year, who were supposedly driving to the beach, included student leaders from Hun, Stuart, and Princeton Day School, in addition to PHS.

“We could do it simply by lecturing you with statistics in an auditorium,” said Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad representative Peter Simon. “But would you remember that one out of three fatalities is alcohol-related, and that 12,000 people die each year in alcohol-related accidents? We try to make this a little more personal, and as real as we can.”

“We want you to make the right decisions when you drink,” added Mr. Simon. “Don’t drive intoxicated, or even buzzed. It’s a very controllable issue.”

“I get chills when I talk about it, even though I know it’s not real,” said Ms. Jolley and, as she predicted, the sight of a fellow student being handcuffed and led away by police for drunk driving made a big impression on the students seated in the risers set up for the event in front of John Witherspoon Middle School.

Other unsettling moments included the identification of the “fatality” by English teacher Suzanne Thompson, and the use of the “jaws of life” to pry open the smacked-up car (courtesy of Larini’s Service Center) and remove other victims (“two critical, two walking wounded”), who had all been heading for the beach when the accident occurred. Victims in critical condition were said to have suffered spinal injuries and were theoretically transferred by ambulances to trauma centers. Peter Hodge and an associate put the dead victim in a body bag and drove her away in a Mather-Hodge hearse.

“It wouldn’t happen exactly this way in real life,” observed Ms. Jolley, “but this is very effective.”

Following the simulation, students filed into the school’s gymnasium for a debriefing with counsellors and rescue workers.

It definitely wasn’t a day at the beach.

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