DELIVERING a SOBER MESSAGE

Emergency exercise shows students dangers of poor driving choices
Thursday, September 13, 2018
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Emergency personnel carry a traffic accident “victim” to a waiting Sweet Grass County ambulance during the vivid mock car wreck depiction at the high school Monday. The drill emphasized to SGHS students the dangers of driving under the influence.

Pioneer photo by Jeffrey Durham

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Pioneer photo by Jeffrey Durham

Khannar Martin-Scroggins plays the role of a drunk driver as Montana Highway Patrol officer Brody Shields conducts a sobriety test on him during the mock exercise Monday.

It was a horrible scene Monday at the northern edge of the Sweet Grass County High School parking lot. Two wrecked vehicles, a bloody boy who appeared to be deceased and several teens with severe injuries in the seats of a crushed car. One vehicle sat in place several feet away after it collided into the other at high speed. As emergency crews, sheriff’s deputies and highway patrolman arrived, that driver was given a sobriety test. He appeared to fail it.

The scene looked like any other tragic wreck, but this one was staged for every high school student who watched it unfold. The emergency response exercise was as realistic as any real one, but it was an act to impress the young people that making poor decisions behind the wheel could kill or maim themselves and others in an instant.

“This mock exercise was all done very well,” SGHS Principal Eric Gustafson told the SGHS Board Tuesday night.

The high school speech and drama students put on a firstclass realistic portrayal from a “dead” boy and the dying to “severely injured” young people.

Sweet Grass County emergency personnel played their part with their usual professional conduct — whether during the exercise or at the scene of the real thing.

Students filed out of the school just before 1:30 p.m. and soon heard sirens approaching from several directions. Sheriff’s deputies, Big Timber Volunteer Fire Department, Sweet Grass County Ambulance, Montana Highway Patrol, the Sweet Grass County Coroner, the DUI Task Force, the Sweet Grass County Public Health Nurse and Hanser’s Towing soon arrived, assessed the situation and got to work. Girls were trapped and extricated from the wrecked vehicle. Personnel assessed their injuries, which were severe. Some were carefully removed and taken by stretcher to the waiting ambulance. A Life-Flight helicopter landed in the middle of the football field and one girl was carried to be “flown” to a Billings hospital.

Meanwhile, the boy who caused the mock crash was undergoing sobriety tests under the watchful eye of a highway patrolman. He stumbled, walking toe-to-toe and clearly mimed that he was under the influence of either alcohol or drugs.

SGHS student Dylan Cowell played a tough part. He endured several minutes lying on his back in the hot sun with artificial blood streaked across his face and shirt. He was the fatality as a result of the crash after he was “thrown” from the victims’ car. Eventually, he was pronounced “dead” by the county coroner and covered with a sheet for transport to an autopsy and then to the funeral home.

The speech and drama students, coached in their performances by Rachel Myrstol, made some wonder whether it really was an act. One girl raced up the street, screaming after hearing that her friends were involved and had to be “restrained” from nearing the scene. Another girl took the microphone from school Activities Director Barry Snodgrass — who narrated the drama — and portrayed one of the victims telling her mother she was going to die and saying goodbye. Her fellow students paid rapt attention during the entire exercise.

The speech and drama performers were Grace Foulk, Callan McDonnell, Dylan Cowell, Ty Ferguson, Merideth Myrstol, Leslie Edden, Sawyer Toulouse, Kailey Forrey and Khannar Martin-Scroggins.

Following the presentation, Trooper Eric Fetterhoff explained how the Highway Patrol dreaded arriving at the scenes of such tragedies, including the deaths and terrible injuries sustained by young people just starting with their lives. No patrolman or deputy or coroner ever wants to deliver the message to the parent of the young victims, he said, noting that teen deaths from accidents have declined in the past couple of years in Montana — which is encouraging — but some young people still choose to hop in the car after drinking or taking drugs.

The high school students filed back into seventh period classes following the drill, many likely thinking about what they just witnessed and how such a tragedy could affect their own lives and the lives of their fellow classmates if they make a poor decision behind the wheel.

Snodgrass informed the audience what was happening as the drill played out. Other participants were Montana Trooper Brody Shields; Sweet Grass County Sheriff Dan Tronrud, Undersheriff Alan Ronneberg, and deputies Kirk Johnston, Seth Brown, Cody Criner and Tom Winters; DUI Task Force members Brooke Johnson and Lindsey Ellis; Public Health Nurse Jennifer Chappell; and Jason Mahoney from 377 Consulting.

Also helping to stage the event were Precision Repair; RC Auto Body; drill evaluators Greg Coleman and Carolyn Open; and Sweet Grass County dispatchers Lori Thompson and Raeann Halstead.

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