Serving as a visual reminder to teens of the dangers of driving while intoxicated or distracted, Otter Tail County's Office of Traffic Safety helped the community of New York Mills put together a mock crash last week.
Brutally realistic - complete with a smashed car, 'bloody' makeup, emergency services personnel, a hearse and more - the scene came to life in the school parking lot on Wednesday afternoon, just days before the prom.
By giving an eye-opening play-by-play of the aftermath of a car crash, the county hopes to prevent the nightmare from becoming a reality.
"Every parent's nightmare is when an officer comes to the door," said Tria Mann, a speaker from DWI Court.
She said every time someone gets behind the wheel, they make choices that can change a life, including whether or not to wear a seatbelt or use a cell phone while driving.
Tri-County paramedic David Cuppy said, "There is no such thing as accidents. Everything you do on the street is preventable."
As students filed out of the school to the prepared 'crash site,' they walked into a dramatic presentation.
Police, firefighters, paramedics, 'victims' (NY Mills School students dressed up to appear injured and acting as though a real accident had occurred) and their panicked families were all around. Students gathered around yellow crime scene tape and watched the scene unfold.
Senior Jackie Imsande, the unhurt 'intoxicated and distracted driver,' jumped out of the wrecked car in a panic. She ran from her classmate, Michael Meyer, who lay outside of the car on the ground as if he had been ejected from the vehicle, and back to the damaged car, where Taylor Ericksrud and Cailey Olson were 'unconscious and stuck' in the back seat.
Imsande was crying and repeatedly said: "I didn't mean to do this... What do I do? What do I do?"
A 'passerby' called 911, and the students heard a prerecorded 911 dispatch call. Shortly after, NY Mills police arrived on scene, followed closely by the NY Mills fire department and first responders.
The scene was a flurry of movement as the first responders assessed and attended to the victims, while others prepped the car for use of the Jaws of Life. The car was jacked up and set on boards, and workers began prying off the doors and roof. The two victims in the back seat were covered with a sheet to protect them from debris.
Tri-County ambulance arrived on scene soon after, and paramedics took a closer assessment of the victims. They pronounced one dead at the scene. From then on, all attention was given to the living, in an effort to sustain life.
As the car continued to be torn apart and the victims attended to, police tested the driver's blood alcohol content using a breathalyzer and arrested her for Driving While Intoxicated. They also began gathering 'evidence,' including beer cans, beer boxes and a cell phone with a half-written text message.
Once the roof of the car was completely off, the victims were carefully lifted out. Ericksrud left the scene in an ambulance just as the life flight crew arrived, stabilizing Olson and carrying her toward the helicopter.
Imsande left the scene in the back of a police car, as a hearse arrived to gather Meyer's body.
The scene had a sense of surreal somberness.
Because it wasn't real, the 'victims' were able to talk later about what the experience was like for them.
They joked about how short Olson's pants were cut by the paramedics while examining her 'leg wound,' and about how Meyer got covered in ants while he lay 'dead' on the ground - right on top of an anthill. Because it wasn't a real emergency flight, Olson got a mini tour above the area, flying over Rush Lake.
Imsande, who was actually crying during the scene, said at the student assembly following the crash, "It was the most realistic thing ever. It was actually awful."
Ericksrud, who was 'stuck' in the backseat of the car, said the sounds were real, so it felt real.
Meyer, who was pronounced 'dead at the scene,' said, "It really hits home to what happened last summer with Ty." Ty Bell was a 2011 NY Mills graduate who died in a fatal car crash last July.
NY Mills Police Officer Jason Gritz said, "We've showed up on calls (accident scenes) where we know everybody... They're the worst calls we get."
As the kids filed out of the gym and headed back to class, one student said, "That was disturbing."