Schools, agencies use mock crashes, presentations to urge prom safety

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comApril 24, 2014 

As Beaufort Academy junior Jake Ingram was zipped into the black body bag and rolled into the back of the Beaufort County coroner's van, his fellow students were left speechless.

The scene seemed chillingly real, but thankfully it wasn't, said Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District spokesman Lee Levesque.

The fire district, along with several other local agencies, orchestrated the mock car crash Thursday morning in the academy's parking lot to encourage students to make responsible decisions.

"This is not just seeing it with their eyes," Levesque said. "They are actually experiencing it and feeling the emotion of what is happening."

The mock crash is just one example of the various programs and events high schools throughout the county coordinate as they head into prom and graduation season.

Educators and law enforcement officials said they hope their presentations and talks with students have an effect.

Over the past five years the fire district, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, Beaufort County EMS and the county coroner's office have staged mock crashes in northern Beaufort County, Levesque said. In that time, there have been no student injuries related to reckless decisions on prom night in the area.

The program rotates among northern Beaufort County schools every few years. It was at Beaufort High School last year.

The infrequency of the mock events makes the message more meaningful for students, Beaufort High principal Corey Murphy said.

"When the kids first walked out, they didn't think it would be much until they saw that it was their classmates in the cars, and I think it felt very real," Murphy said. "I like to think it was effective; you could see it registering on the students' faces."

When not staging mock crashes -- which involve using the Jaws of Life to free students trapped in cars and taking them to the hospital by helicopter -- the schools offer other presentations to reach students.

Murphy said Beaufort High will bring in law enforcement officers to speak before this year's prom. Hilton Head Island High School will have presentations for students and parents to remind them to encourage them to be safe, principal Amanda O'Nan said.

Schools require students to attend the presentations before they can go to prom. They also have to sign a form or pledge promising to make smart decisions on prom night.

The Sheriff's Office, as well as the Bluffton and Beaufort police departments, have said they are aware of the dates of the area proms and will have an increased presence on those nights.

"Our patrol guys are extremely conscious of those activities," said Sgt. Robin McIntosh, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman. "But the biggest portion is the education ahead of time through the schools and law enforcement."

Several Beaufort Academy students who are members of the school's Students Against Destructive Decisions club, which helped organize the mock crash, said they hope it helps students stay safe.

"I think it will stick with the students," junior Casey Kahn said. "We have so many talks about drunk driving and making stupid decisions. But because they know who was involved (in the mock crash), it will really make more of an impact and stick with them."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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