KINGSTON — Kingston High School officials and area emergency personnel collaborated to stage a dramatic accident reenactment designed to remind students to make good decisions behind the wheel.
Tuesday began like any other day, but the first deviation from the norm came when all students and teachers were kept in the cafeteria after breakfast. From there, they were taken to a mock accident scene that had been set up in the parking lot, where emergency workers were swarming around attending to various injured parties, and trying to free another who was trapped in a vehicle.
The teens were then taken back into the cafeteria for a make-believe funeral for a high school student who didn’t survive the crash.
Principal Brenda Foster acknowledged the accident scene and funeral, both of which involved real students as actors, were somewhat shocking, but she said that was exactly the point of the exercise.
“We had to have that ‘wow’ effect,” Foster said. “A lot of these kids at that age think they are invincible, and if you don’t hit home with them, you’re not going to convince them to consider their actions.”
Planning for both portions of the program was extensive, and participants went to great pains to keep the plans from leaking to others at the school. Senior Macey Bayles, one of the students involved in the mock crash, said the project had been in the works for several weeks prior to the event.
“Everybody did a good job of keeping it a secret,” Bayles said. “Even the teachers didn’t know.”
Staging the event the week of the school’s prom was no coincidence, according to Foster, who said reminding students about the consequences of poor decisions is particularly germane at prom time.
Foster and Dean of Students John Caraway oversaw the planning, with Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Rodney Davis handling much of the coordination of emergency personnel. Students participating were Bayles, Dalton Blankenship, Jared Hayes, Chris Stowe and Raylee Woodward. Teachers Brett Hayes, Kila Hayes and Jena Craven played roles as distraught parents. Superintendent of Custodians Mike Hobbs and his staff also helped to coordinate the event.
Area agencies participating included Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, Kingston Police Department, Kingston Fire Department, Marshall County E.M.S., Texoma Fire Department and Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
Students were jolted from their breakfast by a radio call played over the cafeteria intercom. A dispatcher sent emergency crews to the high school for a two-vehicle crash and “possible signal 30,” the radio code term for fatality.
Foster then led the student body to the west parking lot, where they found two cars positioned as if they had just been involved in a head-on crash. bodies were strewn about the crash site, and numerous injuries were visible from the students’ vantage point. Student were positioned at a safe distance, but close enough to watch the goings-on.
One body, later revealed to be that of Blankenship, was lying on the hood of one of the vehicles. It became clear that the body was a signal 30 when workers covered it with a blanket and later removed it in a body bag.
Stowe was sitting outside one of the vehicles bleeding heavily, with several injuries evident. He was later loaded into an ambulance.
Woodward and Bayles were extricated from the vehicles and also loaded into an ambulance. In the course of removing the students, emergency crews forcibly removed a car door and cut the top off of one of the cars, demonstrating their “Jaws of Life” and other equipment.
During the exercise, a shrill yell was heard as Brett and Kila Hayes came rushing onto the scene, calling for their son and attempting to get past emergency workers. Craven was also being restrained by a deputy. Their appearance was included to make students aware of how upset their parents would be in the event of an accident.
Planners had initially intended to transport Woodward by helicopter, but that portion of the exercise was cancelled due to the windy, rainy conditions.
Once all the victims had been removed, students were taken into the cafeteria, where they saw a coffin on the stage, The casket was closed, but atop it was a framed photo of Blankenship in his football uniform.
Rev. Joe Patterson went to the podium to deliver a eulogy for Blankenship. He talked about aspects of the youngster’s personality that he had enjoyed, and expressed sorrow that the teen would no longer be around.
It was revealed that Blankenship, in the mock scenario, had been drinking before driving his vehicle, and Patterson said that his own decisions had ended in the unfortunate result. He said the consequences extended not only to Blankenship, but also to his friends and family members who would mourn his passing for a long time to come. Texting while driving was also sited as a contributing factor to the crash.
Next, Davis took the stage. The patrolman talked extensively about the dangers of inattentive or distracted driving, focusing primarily on drunk driving and texting. He pointed out that many teens think serious accidents will not happen to them, and then shared several statistics that prove otherwise. He said motorists who text while driving are 23 times more likely to have an accident than those who pay attention to the road.
“So really, it’s not a matter of if you have an accident, but when,” Davis said.
The trooper added that the average text takes about four minutes to type and send, and then told students that a vehicle traveling 55 miles per hour would cover the length of a football field in four seconds.
“And how many of you drive 70? Or faster?” he asked the teens.
Davis said the scene students had just observed was a reenactment, but he has been to numerous crash sites that were as gruesome or worse during his time as a state trooper. He said the worst part of his job is finding and informing family members of fatalities.
Jared Hayes had been scheduled to sing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral and talk about the loss of his friend and teammate, but a glitch in the planning prevented that portion of the ceremony from taking place.
“That would have been pretty powerful, but I still think we got the message across,” Foster said. “They just need to know how important it is for them to make good decisions.”