Two-day program outlines the pain of victims, friends and families
It was about 9:30 on Monday morning when students at Upper Perkiomen High School (UPHS) were summoned to a grassy area surrounding a small parking area in front of the school.
As the student body arrived, they witnessed a sight that at first brought thoughts of “just another program to remind us about drunken driving” to many, but quickly became the intense beginning of a two-day lesson about drivers making bad decisions and the impact of a one irresponsible act.
The program, titled “Every 30 Minutes,” was designed to emphasize to all that every 30 minutes someone is killed by a drunk driver. The event, an idea developed by members of the Faculty Action Committee, involved students, volunteers, professionals and many others.
According to UPHS faculty member Mike Tirjan, “We want to teach kids the consequences of distracted driving and making bad decisions behind the wheel.”
What a lesson it was.
Students arrived to find two vehicles involved in a head-on crash. Three of their classmates, Frank Carpinello, Blaine Umstead and Jackie Gavis, played the part of the joy-riding victims in the vehicle that caused the accident. Three other classmates, Ron Gillespie, Ben Ney and Natalie Janton played the part of the innocent victims in the other vehicle. Seeing your friends injured and trapped in a car is an image none of us wants to see. Seeing your friends act out in a drunken stupor after causing the accident was a window few want to look into.
Janton’s character was lucky. She escaped from the vehicle with no serious injuries and began rushing from door to door on cars, banging on the windows and screaming in attempts to roust her classmates from the mangled vehicles.
Sirens began to be heard as a Pa. State Police Trooper and emergency medical units, as well as fire/rescue personnel from Red Hill and Pennsburg fire companies raced to the scene.
Students watched as each emergency responders went about the duties of extricating their trapped and injured friends. Once removed from the wrecks, Gillespie, Umstead and Janton were transported to Grand View and Lehigh Valley hospitals. Carpinello was transported, handcuffed, to the Pa. State Police barracks in Skippack on the suspicion of driving under the influence. Gavis and Ney received a ride of a different kind. Their characters were killed in the accident and transported in a hearse, provided by Mann-Slonaker Funeral Home, and a special vehicle provided by the Montgomery County Coroner – who was on hand for the legal pronouncements.
Faculty member and program participant Ernie Quatrani remarked that, “The event is a reality check for students.”
But the lesson wasn’t over when the victims were taken away. Every 30 minutes, for the rest of the school day, a student was removed from a classroom as a reminder that every 30 minutes someone is killed by a drunk driver. Students Emily Hasson, Stacy Ayauckland, Julie Lavin, Natalie Civta, Dan Winters, Aidan Schaffer and Wolfgang McStravick saw their school day cut short when they were selected as symbols of the theme of the event.
On Wednesday morning, the students were called into the gym for an assembly that was a continuation of Tuesday’s event. In the large room, filled with the student body, you could hear a pin drop. A hush came over all as a brilliantly produced video of Tuesday’s events was broadcast across two giant screens.
But reliving the events witnessed the previous day isn’t what brought a hush to the crowd. It was watching Carpinello acting out his part as the drunk driver and being uncomfortable as you watched him go through DUI testing, an arrest and incarceration.
It was following up with the rest of their injured friends through the hospitals and emergency rooms, listening as their injuries were explained and their statuses reported. It was watching and listening to WFMZ-Channel 69 Anchor Rob Vaughn give a riveting report on the accident and announcing that a third victim, Umstead, died at the hospital. It was a mock funeral for the deceased and the words of parents and other speakers.
The lesson had been laid in front of the students in a powerful exercise. It was a lesson that students can carry with them, not only in this end-of-school prom and dance season, but for the rest of their lives.