Simulated wreck sends a message

South Whidbey High School student Jennifer Linden plays the victim of a drunk driving accident during a simulationThursday. At left, Andrew Boyle plays a victim thrown through the windshield of a car. - Gayle Saran
South Whidbey High School student Jennifer Linden plays the victim of a drunk driving accident during a simulationThursday. At left, Andrew Boyle plays a victim thrown through the windshield of a car.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

The scenario: A high school boy stops at a social gathering. Described as a good student who doesn't do drugs or alcohol, he nonetheless gives in to peer pressure and has a few drinks with his buddies.

He leaves the party intoxicated and gets into his car with his brother to drive home. He loses control and hits an oncoming vehicle head-on, a vehicle driven by a teenage girl with her brother in the passenger seat.

The drunk driver, played by high school student Casey Olson during a realistic simulation of a drunk driving accident Thursday, is unhurt, but his 13-year-old "brother," Caleb Nerison, is in critical condition. The teenage girl driving the other car is in critical condition, while her passenger is dead at the scene.

Olson is given a Breathalyzer test and then arrested -- right in front of every student at the high school.

The enactment, held as an outdoor, all-school assembly in the high school parking lot, was complete with fake blood, wrecked cars, professional rescue and law enforcement personnel, and screaming eyewitnesses. It was all designed to give the students a scare -- a scare to go straight when it comes to drinking and driving.

"If it reaches a few kids, it's worth it," said Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley, who was at the simulation.

This is the third year Island County Fire District 3 has put on the event. A surreal sight, the simulation looked and felt real, even though FD3 Special Services Battalion Chief Darin Reid gave a running commentary to students perched on a grassy area above the parking lot.

According to Sheriff Hawley, this time of year is perfect for doing the simulation. Every spring, he said, comes with the anticipation of prom and graduation parties, events at which he hopes the message against drinking and driving is reinforced.

"Every year we respond to accidents where drugs and alcohol are involved," Hawley said.

After the simulation, students heard firsthand from real drunk drivers and people who have lost loved ones in drunk driving accidents during an assembly in the school auditorium.

The toughest lesson of the day came from Rick Pitt, the school district's facilities manager. Pitt's high-school-age daughter, Chrissie, died in 2000 in an accident caused by a drunk driver.

Chrissie Pitt was a month short of graduation at Oak Harbor High School when she and two friends drove south on Interstate 5 to California on a road trip. They were near Sacramento when a drunk driver decided to drive north in the southbound lanes, traveling at 80 mph. Pitt died in the crash. The drunk driver's blood alcohol level was a .23.

Rick Pitt said is daughter had earned four academic letters and had been accepted at the University of Washington.

The driver who killed her, Ben Priest, was present at Thursday's assembly. He attempted to tell the story of what happened the day he drove his car into the vehicle in which Chrissie Pitt was riding, but was overcome with emotion.

Pitt, holding a large framed photo of Chrissie on stage in the auditorium, related the events that led to the death of his daughter.

"We got a call, no parent should ever have to get. Chrissie didn't have a choice, she never had a chance." Pitt said.

It was a message the students at the school will not soon forget.

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