A puddle of blood pooled below Emma Gibson’s head, turning the black pavement of the parking lot as red as her prom dress. Three empty brown beer bottles and a drained whiskey bottle spilled out of the mangled car.
“Emma, Emma, you need to call your mother,” screamed a friend trapped in the back seat.
But Gibson, a senior, didn’t die at the scene of a two-car crash on prom night because her boyfriend, Aryeh Rohde, didn’t drink and drive.
The dramatic mock crash took place Thursday in front of South Whidbey High School, as it does about every four years in the week before senior/junior prom, which is Saturday, April 27 at Freeland Hall.
Leadership students organized the event that included a criminal trial and funeral.
Students in grades 9-12 were told in advance they could opt out of the grisly demonstration.
Junior Sam Martin spearheaded the effort and spent months coordinating the participation of law enforcement, South Whidbey Fire/EMS, Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks and Peter Strow, a retired Island County District Court judge. He didn’t need to go far to find one participant since his father, Dave Martin, is a trooper with the Washington State Patrol.
For some adults watching from the sidelines — and some community first responders participating — the scene was very real and very painful.
Nearly eight years ago, three recent graduates of the Langley High School were killed in a wreck when their friend got behind the wheel after a night of drinking. The 18 year old lost control of the car, hit a tree and subsequently was sentenced to three counts of vehicular homicide.
“Myself, my staff and the community lost three kids that once were sitting in these same seats you’re in now,” Principal John Patton said, on the verge of tears at the end of the program. “It’s horrific. I took phone calls from the sheriff, the police. The worst was the coroner.”
At the end of the crash reenactment, a white cloth placed over Gibson’s body billowed in the breeze.
“This is realistic,” said South Whidbey Fire/EMS Deputy Chief Mike Cotton. “I’m hoping the message gets across, and it makes an imprint on their choices.”
Sam Martin volunteers with the high school program at North Whidbey Fire and Rescue, the only youth program of its kind on the island.
“I am scared to death of the possibility of finding my friend at a rescue scene,” he told the gathering following an emotional — but fake — funeral service.
Patton pleaded with students to be smart.