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Driving home the message

Graphic demonstration highlights harsh realities of drinking and driving

By Katherine Grant

The scene in front of South Lincoln High School on Tuesday morning was graphic.

Three blood-covered, unconscious teenagers in one car, a fourth in the vehicle that hit them, sitting behind the wheel looking around in a daze.

AJ MacDougall, posing as the “drunk” driver responsible for the carnage, bolts from the scene as police arrive.
AJ MacDougall, posing as the “drunk” driver responsible for the carnage, bolts from the scene as police arrive.

Smoke filled the air around the cars as students from the nearby high school gathered on the sidewalk to watch events play out.

It is silent for a few moments as the smoke drifts away and then emergency personnel converge on the accident. A police cruiser comes wheeling in from the east, paramedics and firefighters from the west.

Suddenly a door swings open and the driver in the second car bolts, running down the street past the cruiser away from the carnage. A police officer is soon in pursuit.

It wasn’t real.

But it unfolded as if it was.

“The goal of the exercise was to draw attention to the perils of drunk driving and distracted driving,” said Const. Phil Gavin, Niagara Regional Police Service media relations officer.

“People think accidents only happen to other people. Students need to see the realities of what can happen.”

One of the “victims” died at the scene.

Grim-faced firefighters lifted her from the car and slide her into a body bag at the feet of the students.

“The message was designed to be powerful and realistic,” said Gavin.

Firefighters and police officers addressed the students explaining what they were seeing as first responders got to work.

“We have one victim who is dead and she is impeding the ability to help the survivors so we are going to treat her with dignity and take her aside and away from the accident,” said Sgt. Todd Lantz.

Firefighters worked to stabilize the car, blocking the tires. They used the jaws of life to extricate the driver as a firefighter climbed into the back seat to comfort a third victim who was now conscious and screaming. They covered the victims with tarps to protect them from broken glass as firefighters prepared to peel back the roof of the car.

Paramedics assessed the driver and determined he has a neck or back injury, a crushed pelvis and one of his feet is trapped in the wreckage.

The rescue got underway at about 9:45 a.m. and only about 20 minutes has elapsed.

In the meantime an arrest has been made.

Const. David Thiessen, who pursued the fleeing driver, has returned to the scene and reported he has apprehended the driver and he will be charged with impaired driving.

Emergency personnel continue to work in concert with each other. The driver is the only victim still in the vehicle.

The backseat passenger has been able to get out of the car on her own and becomes hysterical again when she sees her friend being tended to by paramedics. She is walked gently away from the scene by Sgt. Lantz.

A hearse arrives to take away the girl who didn’t make it and she is carried on a stretcher by firefighters and placed in the back with the students looking on. The driver has now been freed and he was a neck brace on. He is placed in an ambulance and taken away.

“I didn’t expect the girl to get upset and start freaking out,” said Matthew Weiss, one of the hundreds of students lining the sidewalk. He said given the circumstances, being in the car with friends who are dead or dying, he would likely have reacted the same.

Other students noted there was so much blood – everywhere.

And then it was over.

Had a real tragedy taken place, the dead girl’s family would be getting a visit that is every parent’s worse nightmare and their lives would never be the same; a young man could be looking at jail, would have to face his family and friends and live with the knowledge he had taken a life, and the surviving accident victims would be faced with a lifetime of recovering from the physical and emotional damage inflicted on them.

“It was about as real as it could get without being the real thing,” said “victim” Sydney Finch. “They told us what to expect and I was in the back and I was OK until everyone started to come outside and the firefighters got there and then I started to cry, I was scared.”

The firefighters, paramedics and police were very kind, she said.

“They kept telling me I was going to be alright, to stay calm and that everything was fine and that my friends were OK,” she said.

They didn’t tell her that one had died.

“Drunk driver” AJ MacDougall said he was also prepared for his role. “They told me to run and hide somewhere. So I saw my friend’s grandpa’s house and I ran past it and hid behind a tree.”

That was where he was caught.

“I got pinned up against the trunk, he searched my pockets and read me my rights,” said AJ. The walk back to the accident scene – in handcuffs – was awkward. AJ said the officer, Const. David Thiessen, kept asking if he was comfortable but the whole experience just felt strange.

Const. Ron Tufford took a minute to tease AJ. “I don’t think I have ever seen you run so fast!” said Tufford who had worked with
students and emergency services to set up the exercise.

As for drinking and driving?

“Yeah, not for me,” said AJ surveying the wreckage.


Featured image — The body of accident “victim” Haylee Clarke is placed in a body bag. A hearse will soon arrive to take her to the morgue.

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