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Teens get a glimpse of how bad driving can maim and kill

Sept. 13, 2010

New Berlin — Two horribly mangled cars stood on the New Berlin West soccer field, the screams of the blood-splashed crash victims piercing the air.

Those victims were young, and so were the spectators - New Berlin West juniors and seniors who sat in the soccer field stands transfixed by what they were seeing, even if it wasn't exactly real.

"Forever Changed" was the name of the mock crash, presented last week. It was meant to shock young people to the realization that it could be them in place of the actors if they engage in risky behaviors while driving.

The program was the result of a collaboration among the New Berlin fire and police departments, Froedtert Hospital and Flight for Life.

Realistic scenes of horror

It was strong stuff and it grabbed the kids.

The young people saw their classmates playing the parts of a drunken driver, a texting driver and their passengers, one of whom was "killed" in the make-believe crash.

The scenario involved a drunken driver going 60 mph crossing the center line and colliding head-on with another car containing three people. The driver of the other car was texting, so he could not react fast enough to avoid the accident.

Everyone was "injured."

The drunken driver was screaming, "I can't believe this happened. What did I do? Somebody help us."

His passenger had been ejected from the car and killed.

In the other car, the texting driver's sister lay paralyzed from the neck down. She was actually taken away by Flight for Life. New Berlin Fire Department ambulances transported the other victims.

The young people watched while emergency personnel labored for at least half an hour to free the injured passengers, even using the Jaws of Life to peel the top off one of the wrecks.

Sad aftermath

All that was in the morning. In the early afternoon, the program continued with staged events that carried such realism much further.

The mother of their classmate who was "killed" presented a eulogy and showed slides of her son. They went all the way back to his baby pictures. School Principal Blake Peuse solemnly read the boy's obituary.

Also part of the program was a talk by a young woman who still deals with the aftermath of head injuries she suffered in a car crash.

Making an impact

It was a tough day, but did the message get through?

Froedtert representative Lisa Hass Peters, who has presented a dozen of these accident re-enactments for high schools in Waukesha and Milwaukee counties, said the young audience was engaged.

"I didn't see chitter-chattering or squirming," she said.

Assistant Fire Chief Joe Dallman said, "When they first came out, they were all talking but when the tarps came off (showing the accident scene), it was instant quiet."

The school was buzzing after the mock crash and the afternoon program.

"A lot of people said it was an eye-opener," said Alyssa Tannert, a junior. "You are putting your life and everybody else's at risk."

For Alyssa and others, the most moving aspect of the presentation was that the students were told that in the scenario, the parents of the boy who was "killed" had to identify the body.

"That brought me to tears," Alyssa said.

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