Two days before their senior prom, 360 Clarkstown North High School seniors saw first-hand the dangers of DWI. A morning demonstration by dozens of volunteers from the New City and Congers fire departments, New City Ambulance Corps, plus Clarkstown Police officers and LifeNet helicopter personnel brought the realities of drunk driving to their school.
A parking lot transformed into a fatal accident scene with students playing the roles of a drunk driver, fatally injured passenger and critically injured passenger while a medical emergency helicopter landed on the adjacent sports field. Firefighters worked to remove vehicle doors in order to extricate the injured and fatally injured passengers so ambulance corps members could treat them.
The driver of the small pickup truck that smashed into the back of the van was escorted from her vehicle, given a field sobriety test by a police officer. Then she was “arraigned” before Clarkstown Justice Court Judge Howard Gerber on one count each of intoxication, vehicular assault and vehicular manslaughter and “taken” to jail.
Former New City Fire Chief Mike Graff said, “We’re trying to overload their senses. We just blast it all at them.”
Graff, who initiated the annual DWI demonstration 10 years ago said he had a personal reason for doing so.
“This came about after I had to carry a kid out of the car dead and his parents didn’t know he was out of the house,” he explained. “I said I didn’t want to do this again.”
Howard Lazner lost his son just days before his 16th birthday in a car accident because the driver was speeding and lost control. He spoke to the students about his loss and how drivers, especially teen drivers need to exercise caution. Lazner said 5,000 young drivers are expected to lose their lives this year in car accidents.
“As teenagers many of us feel invincible behind the wheel,” he said. “You never know on any given day, your life can be turned upside down or worse. Please remember that speeding can have the same deadly consequences as driving drunk or driving stoned.”
New City Firefighter John Bennett, who organized Wednesday’s program, said the goal is to simulate a drunk driving accident and show the dangerous results. When the “body” of the fatally injured victim was removed from the pickup truck, it was placed in a body bag on a stretcher and wheeled through the group of students to a Sorce Funeral Home vehicle.
“I think it’s pretty emotional,” said Bennett, a teacher at Strawtown Elementary School. “Most of the kids haven’t experienced anything like this.”
What he notices is that the students arrive at the accident scene acting like high school kids and by the end of the program they are quieter and behaving differently.
Senior Natasha Camille of New City said it delivered an effective message.
“I thought that it really demonstrated why kids should not be drinking and driving,” she said. “Cause prom is a night that we’re supposed to have fun and we can all do that in a sober fashion.”
Camille said, “It seemed very real,” adding some of her classmates found it “really shocking.”
North Principal Harry Leonardatos said the school psychologist and counselors are nearby in case students want to talk about what they have just seen or about a prior experience. He said the demonstration is a valuable tool.
“Making bad decisions, this is what it’s all about,” he said.
Students got to see the volunteers in action with a real emergency when toward the end of the approximately 30-minute program, three of their classmates fainted. Emergency medical technicians treated them at the scene but one girl and one boy were sent by ambulance to the hospital.
“It’s mostly precautionary,” said Leonardatos, adding that the teens may not have eaten breakfast, drunk enough liquids or have a medical history that caused them to pass out in the strong morning sun,
Although most of the volunteer participants were local, the emergency medical helicopter came from Wallkill. LifeNet of New York donated the use of its helicopter, Air 2, and emergency staff, a pilot, paramedic and two nurses. One of the staffers said they regularly participate in DWI/DUI events directed at high school students.