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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016

Mock accident makes a mark on Richland students

Friday, October 25, 2002

Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper E.R. Webb gives a sobriety test to Brandon Hampton during the mock accident.
ESSEX -- All fidgeting and murmuring in the bleachers came to a halt as six of Richland High School senior Jacob Lee's friends carried a casket to the center of the school's gym floor, just moments after a mock accident occurred in front of the school Thursday.

Earlier at the wreck scene, two students were transported away in an ambulance, two were evacuated by helicopter and one rode away in a police car after being arrested on alcohol and drug-related charges.

Lee didn't survive the fake crash. He was the last student to leave the scene, and he did so in an unforgettable fashion -- in a body bag.

As the body bag was brought to the scene, a lot of chattering was taking place throughout the crowd. Comments were made from high school students about what it would feel like to be in the bag and whether or not the coroner was going to zip the bag up all the way.

"I'd be freaking out, dude," one boy said to another. "They would not do that to me," a girl said.

Lee later admitted the body bag smelled funny, like rubber, he said. And he warmed up quickly after being placed in the bag. And as the rescue crew used the "Jaws of Life" to free Lee from the vehicle, debris flew all over the place, he added.

It took a minute for Amber Suiter, who portrayed one of the seriously injured students who was air evacuated, to realize she wasn't really hurt.

"I went into shock," Suiter said. "I kept thinking it was really happening to me. I was shaking."

In conjunction with Red Ribbon Week, the Richland School District chose to host a mock accident for their students because the district thought it would have the most profound effect on the children, said Tammy Murphy, high school counselor.

"We're trying to do everything we can to give the kids the right ideas so they can make sound decisions on drinking and driving," Richland Superintendent Troy Bollinger said. "We can't make up their minds for them, but we'll do everything we can to prevent students from drinking and driving."

Two wrecked cars were staged in front of the high school to represent the car crash. The Stoddard County Ambulance District, Stoddard County Coroner Greg Mathis, Arch Air Medical, the Stoddard County Sheriff's Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Dexter Fire/Rescue and Essex Fire Department and first responder team were all on hand to realistically depict the scene of an actual crash. The entire rescue mission took approximately 45 minutes.

"If this accident were real, these kids really would've lost a friend," Murphy said.

Elizabeth Dean and Lacey Hux, injured students transported by ambulance, both vowed to never drink and drive, especially after their experience Thursday. They said other students won't know what it's like until they get loaded on the stretcher and into the ambulance. It was scary, they added.

"It's weird seeing your friends doing all of this," junior Casey Bone said after watching the accident's events.

Fifth grader Jason Clark said the helicopter scared him the most. He thought it was going to land too close to the school.

Elementary Principal Traci Suiter said the younger students were especially inquisitive. "They were asking me if this was really happening and how the 'dead' person was going to breathe in the body bag," Suiter explained.

After the mock accident, students assembled into the gym, where Bollinger and D.A.R.E. Officer Shirley Alexander talked to them about what they'd just witnessed. "I hope you saw how devastating things can be from drinking and driving," Bollinger said.

The superintendent then reminded the students to always buckle up and to not only watch out for themselves when driving, but the other drivers on the road, too. He proceeded to tell the students that at 19, a friend of his died and he was asked to be a pallbearer. Soon after, Bollinger called the six pallbearers to center court and asked them to bring in the casket.

"We've definitely learned not to drink and drive," said all of the pallbearers. They realized that some students have already made up their minds whether they're going to drink, and for those who chose to drink, the boys advised them to stay where they are once they drink.

"That did me," pallbearer Brandon Moore said about carrying the casket. "I won't drink or drive or let my friends drink and drive."

Of the six boys who acted as pallbearers, only one had actually performed the duty before for his grandfather's funeral. They all admitted it felt weird, and they definitely don't want to carry a casket again.

"The sad truth of the matter is that we don't get a second chance like this," Bollinger concluded. "With Halloween season coming and prom season after that, I hope you realize that this isn't something you want. It's very traumatic. Just think about what you're doing."