SILVERDALE — “The message is simple: Do not drink and drive. And while driving, put your phone away. Do not text and drive.”
Central Kitsap High School Principal Stephen Coons opened the annual mock crash, April 24 at CKHS, with a speech that culminated in that simple, yet important, message.
The mock crash is a “powerful presentation” that CKHS has been doing for 15 years. Traditionally taking place the week leading up to senior prom, the presentation consists of student actors portraying the aftermath of a fatal car crash caused by driving under the influence.
This year, one of the drivers in the scene was driving while intoxicated, the other was texting while driving.
“Each year, this event brings great sadness to me, as I consider this senseless loss that these horrible decisions create,” Coons said.
“It is my hope that you will remember this morning for a lifetime, and the feelings it evokes in you as you continue to live beyond the halls of CK High over the next several weeks.”
The scene started immediately following the crash. Nine student actors were involved, including Justin Anderson, Roque Blas, Emma Gutierrez, Kennedy Jackson, Dawson Krog, Courtney Murray, Thomas Wilson, Kasey Morris and Hunter Stringer.
Also participating were emergency personnel from Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue and the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office. Eventually joining the scene were personnel from the Kitsap County Coroner’s Office and Airlift Northwest.
At the start of the scene, two students were laid out on the hoods of the two cars. Another was trapped inside a car with a severe shoulder wound; another was unresponsive.
The remaining five students were left to call 911 and try and help their friends and themselves as best they could.
After emergency responders arrived, paramedics attempted to revive one of the two students on the car, with efforts including CPR. However, she was soon pronounced dead.
“It was really surreal,” said Murray, the student who was pronounced dead. “And I think it’s really very important our classmates know the importance of not driving distracted, because we’ve already had so many friends that we know who have passed from accidents like this. So I think it’s really important to send the message, even though it’s really kind of disturbing.”
She said the process of being zipped up in a body bag by the coroner was very weird.
Another student, who was removed from the car by firefighters using the jaws of life, was airlifted by a helicopter summoned by CKFR. The student unresponsive at the beginning of the scene was also pronounced dead after CKFR used power tools to cut off the top of the car in order to safely get to him.
Another student was arrested for driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter.
‘The community cares deeply for you’
Randy Templeton, the mock crash coordinator, said, “We do this to make a statement, an impact on our school community.”
Templeton, who has been organizing this event for a while, said a couple years ago they surveyed alumni who’d been involved in the very first mock crash that the school did.
“They still say it was impacting them, 15 years after they graduated, that they still think about the message they heard here.
“There’s no way we want to stop doing this. If we change one kid’s thinking about drinking and driving, and we save one life, then all of this was worth it.”
Katie Staker, activities coordinator, also addressed the senior class watching the mock crash.
“You belong to a community that cares very deeply for you, cares about your future,” Staker said. “So let’s think about that, that you belong to a community. That your actions don’t stand alone. That the things you do and the choices you make affect the people around you.
“We hope that this experience prompts you to have greater awareness, meaningful conversations, making more careful choices as you move forward. This spring, you have so much to celebrate, and as you have that celebration and you have that fun, you have got to think about not only your safety, but the safety of the people around you, because you are all deeply cared for and loved and that you matter to a lot of people. Please, remember that.”
‘This is a very real thing that happens’
But for all the realistic drama that played out before the eyes of the senior class, friends and family, arguably the most moving part of the program was when CKHS alumna Jessica Ricks addressed the audience.
“This is a very real thing that happens to people,” Ricks, 25, said. “When I was 7 years old, in 1999, not even a few minutes away from my house, on Highway 3 over by the Little League fields out in Poulsbo, my mom and my oldest brother were hit head on by a drunken driver.”
Ricks recalled her showing up to the crash site and watching the ambulances and police cars, and seeing her brother being airlifted to a hospital in Seattle.
She spoke of waiting with her other brother at a friend’s house, and of asking her godfather, “Where is my mom? Where is my mom? Where is my mom?”
“I was 7 years old, and I had to face the reality that the entire rest of my life, I would be growing up without a mom,” Ricks said.
“I turn 26 in just a few weeks. I’ve spent more of my life without her than I ever did with her, and all because one man, who was my age now, got drunk and put his keys in the ignition. And that was a choice. It wasn’t an accident.
“This isn’t an accident. It’s a choice that every one of us makes. You choose how responsible you are. And when you’re driving a loaded weapon, you need to be wise. You need to be smart. Because it’s not just your life, it’s somebody else’s. And you’re worth something. Take a moment and think about that. You are worth something. And you are worth a lot more than this.”
Ricks told the crowd how she still thinks about the loss of her mother every day. Her husband will never meet her mom. Her future children will never meet their grandmother. She said that even now, years later, it still hurts just as much as it did when she was 7.
“This is a a real pain that no one can take away,” Ricks said. “That you can prevent. No one wants to lose you, and you don’t want to lose anyone else.
“It’s my plea to you guys to be wiser, to be smarter, to realize that you’re worth something, and everybody else around you is, too. You’ve got a lot of life left.”
After the mock crash presentation was complete, Ricks said the reason she spoke was “because the Lord transformed my life, and this stuff is very real, and it doesn’t need to happen, and I want to do everything I can to make it stop.”
Coons said, “It is my greatest wish that all of you make safe decisions … as you gear up to celebrate your senior prom this week and graduation in June. Your safety means the world to all of us today. The sadness a tragedy such as this can bring is unbearable to think of.
“The message is simple: Do not drink and drive, and while driving, put your phone away. Do not text and drive.”
— Michelle Beahm is a reporter with the Kitsap News Group. She can be reached at email@example.com.