An Orange High School student was sitting in the passenger seat without her seatbelt on when the car she was in collided head-on with another overloaded car after the driver looked at a cellphone for one instant. The student was thrown from the car. She broke her neck and died. Luckily, this was only a mock car crash presented by members of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) under the guidance of OHS nurse Mary Massey and School Resource Officer Todd Bennett.
For the students who witnessed it, it seemed all too real. Following the horrifying sounds played over the loud speaker of metal crunching, there was only silence. And tears.
“It’s really eye-opening because it shows you that these things do happen,” said junior Vanessa Richards. “I think a lot of high schoolers take that for granted and don’t see the reality of it.”
“I definitely think the texting is going to decrease after seeing this,” said senior Brianna Snoddy. “I know this is going to affect how I act and make me think more.”
Snoddy was one of about a dozen students who took part in the texting and driving simulation. After SADD co-presidents Dana Severin and Sydney Friedman welcomed the junior and senior classes, Intervention Specialist Ernie Ley recounted his own true story about a moment in time that changed his life forever.
“Two days into my senior year at Mayfield High School, just hours after a soccer victory, six classmates began the Friday night ritual of cruising up and down Mayfield Road…there were many choices made that night including the choice to pick up 12 other passengers and squeeze them all into a late model station wagon,” Ley told the mesmerized crowd. “Nobody thought about all the weight in the car and the inability to keep control. It was innocent but careless fun and then something went horribly wrong.”
Ley went on to explain how everything is determined by choices. His choice not to be in the car saved his life that night. Some of his friends did not live to hear him tell this story.
“That is the ironic thing about choices,” Ley warned. “Often times we don’t think about the consequences until we are surrounded by them and then it is too late. My hope and prayer for all of you is that you will make choices that allow you to look back on your senior issue of the Orange yearbook with no regrets and have memories that will make you proud of the choices that you made.”
Following Ley’s presentation, three student narrators (seniors Matthew Schiff and Eve Gleeson and junior Zayn Dweik) recounted the details leading up to the events the students were about to experience. They then revealed the accident scene. The 911 call, the arrival of the fire and police officials from Orange Village, Moreland Hills, Pepper Pike and Woodmere, as well as the Metro Life Flight helicopter, along with the triage that followed all happened in real time.
Student organizers hope that hearing these stories and visually seeing their friends’ untimely deaths had an impact.
“I hope the students leave with a good sense that people do text and drive and do recklessly drive and don’t think about the consequences,” said senior Dana Severin. “I hope they get a reality check in the sense that this is the scenario that could happen. We’re lucky that it hasn’t, but it could.”
“This is common. This is a big deal, and people should realize this is dangerous,” added Sydney Friedman. “My message would be to not take things like this lightly because it could happen to you.”
For those students who say they already are safe drivers, at least one student offered another take on the situation.
"Even if I'm not texting and driving or distracting people, you should definitely speak up and tell other people who are distracting not to be because there are serious consequences from it. It's really dangerous," said junior Sarah Goulder.
For the safety forces on hand, the triage, the bodies, and the mangled cars weren’t just a scenario at all. They were part of a reality that they were glad students could see firsthand.
“It’s all visual. Especially with kids these days, they are visual. Seeing something like this just puts something in their brain,” said Orange Village Fire Department Captain Brian Hitt. “When they go ahead and try to do something in the future that they shouldn’t, that image flashes back in their brain, and they say, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t do that.’”
“Hopefully this is something that makes them think twice every time they get into a car,” added Officer Bennett. “It only takes a couple of seconds of not paying attention to the road and something like this can happen.”
The mock car crash is coordinated with the local community fire and rescue squads that serve the Orange Schools every two years to make the largest impact on the new and younger drivers.
“A lot of times people think, ‘oh it can’t happen to me’, like they are invincible and that’s not really the truth,” said Dweik. “Seeing their classmates, fellow people they see every day, go through this will have an effect.”
“It’s not like when an adult comes in to an assembly telling us ‘don’t text and drive; don’t drink and drive’,” added Gleeson. “Information coming from somebody older is not nearly as effective as witnessing a scenario like this coming from some of your peers.”