By Alison Murtagh
There will be blood before this year’s junior-senior prom at Parry McCluer High School.
Two days before the prom, a mock two-car crash will take place outside of PMHS on April 19 to simulate the impact of distracted driving.
Police officers and medics will be on the scene. Hundreds of students will gather to watch. Seniors will be assigned various roles, from victims to the drivers of the cars.
Depending on their conditions, the victims, in fake blood and pale makeup, will be taken away in ambulances, a helicopter and a hearse borrowed from a local funeral home.
“The site is treated exactly as it would be if it was a real scene,” said Donna Frazier, the PMHS teacher who advises the Interact Club, the event’s sponsor.
The school’s Interact Club has sponsored such simulations in the past, but not for the past four years. This year, it’s part of a week of activities designed to try to make the prom safe by alerting students to the dangers of distracted driving and other risky behaviors.
Distracted driving is more than drunken driving. “It can come from texting and driving. It can come from their laughing and giggling and talking and having conversation,” Frazier said.
Ashley Austin, a junior at James Madison University, participated in the simulation in 2015 when she was a senior at PMHS. She had been moved by another simulation there years earlier. So in her senior year she played the role of a victim who was ejected from a car and was placed on a stretcher and taken away in an ambulance.
“I think it sticks with everybody [who] sees it,” Austin said. “If you just hear about it, it’s harder to understand the whole purpose of it, and to get the actual feel of it. But I feel like everybody that’s involved and gets to see it is moved by it.”
The simulated crash will be the highlight of several safe-prom activities planned for the week and post-prom. After the prom, which is Saturday, April 21, students are invited to a party at Southern Virginia University’s Stoddard Center hosted by the Parent Advisory Committee at PMHS. The party will run until 3 a.m., and include inflatables, a mechanical bull and a DJ.
“It’s also to get them to make good decisions and not be alone together as couples so that boys and girls don’t feel pressured to make a decision that they’re not ready to make,” Frazier said. “No matter what it is — whether it has to do with an illegal substance, or a sexual activity.”
Events during the week include a corn hole tournament with drunk goggles and the signing of a pledge to stay safe.
The Grim Reaper, an actor in costume, also visits students during lunch periods. A student will be selected and taken away as if he or she had passed away.
In all parts of the simulation, students do not take on a new identity but play themselves, which can be emotionally disturbing for them and others.
“It’s not like we’re just random people, so we’re trying to push the point that this can happen here and that it is possible for your friends to be in accidents like that,” Austin said.
In 2015, another actor at the scene eulogized the “deceased” students, discussing their life goals and the accomplishments they would never achieve.
“It was so moving to hear that because people have plans and every single day people get hit by drunk drivers and their plans get ruined,” Austin said. “It really [struck] home for all of us. Do not drink and drive. Don’t participate in this behavior because you could ruin somebody else’s life and you could have your own life ruined.”
The event is fully funded by the community and costs the school nothing, Frazier said. It requires the donations of cars as well as the services of the local police.
Austin says Buena Vista students haven’t been involved in drunk driving crashes, and she credits the high school simulations.
“I think that a lot of that has to do with people seeing this mock car crash and realizing how easily it can happen to them.”