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Fake crash creates sobering reminder

The high-school-based group Students Offering Support will stage a bad car accident 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, in the parking lot of the Wildcat Centre, 861 Cemetery Road. <i>Stock photo</i>

Spring brings for teens thoughts of prom, graduation, summer vacation, parties -- and every three years, a convincing mock-car crash.

The high-school-based group Students Offering Support will stage a bad car accident 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, in the parking lot of the Wildcat Centre, 861 Cemetery Road.

A core group of 12 in the 60-member SOS group has been meeting weekly to organize. The students said last week they stage the fake crash every three years so that each student experiences it at least once during high school.

One SOS member said the event is, "Just to bring more awareness."

Another agrees and says it's about encouraging good decisions.

The SOS planners also say the mock crash is often held in the spring, just before all the party-intensive year-end activities. The drama of the event delivers a strong message.

The group somberly acknowledges that planning was difficult and much "more intense" in the wake of a real-life tragedy. The students, especially sophomores, still mourn classmate and RFHS freshman Sara Goldbach, whom they lost to a fatal crash last May.

Some of the same students planning the mock event had been involved in training to offer grief-support services at the school immediately after Goldbach's death.

They said the student body has been made aware of the upcoming event, and everyone may choose whether they watch it or not.

The students emphasize that the mock-crash event will not portray the accident in which their classmate was killed. The staged crash does not simulate that incident or highlight any of its details.

Making impact

Students decide the theme of this every-three-years event and for 2013, chose to focus on the issue of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or prescription drugs.

They decline to tell how the April 17 demonstration will end but give a few details.

The storyline involves two cars and drivers playing 'road chicken,' a game in which two drivers speed their cars straight toward each other until one of them "flinches" and veers away.

What students see is the aftermath of the game, including fire trucks, ambulances and police squad cars, general twisted-metal wreckage, and -- if it doesn't have a real emergency, a medical helicopter will land at the scene.

Observers sit in bleachers to watch what unfolds, including law enforcement giving a sobriety test.

Police School Liaison Officer Chris Gottfredson helps the student group line up firefighters, paramedics and police officers. He said the responders donate their time but also get good practice during the events.

Gottfredson is usually charged with obtaining cars to use for the demonstration, "I work with Jerry's Towing to facilitate that," he said. "They bring those (crashed cars) to the site."

Asked if any streets would close during the event, Gottfredson replies, "There will be no road closure for any length of time."

He said the students make the decisions and do the work. They write scripts and a fake newspaper article, arrange for bleacher setup, recruit actors and a videographer, find a speaker who will make an impact, plan publicity, develop a soundtrack, prepare a statement for teachers to read in class regarding the event, and ask for class time in which students could ask questions.

Gottfredson said the students put a lot of energy into making the mock crash realistic and memorable, right down to details like making fake smoke with a fog machine.

"I think it really gets through to a lot of people," said the school officer.

Organizers have invited not only all the students from their school, but also students from other schools. Also helping with the project are the Pierce County Partnership for Youth, the St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program and many others.

The SOS group's advisor, RFSD Counselor Gary Campbell, said he agrees the timing and nature of the mock crash encourage positive judgment at a key time of year when many, fun, year-end activities happen.

He said about the mock crash, "The focus and intent of doing this is promoting good choices and good decision making."