Juniors and seniors at Smith-Cotton High School weren’t aware they would be learning about the dangers of impaired driving when they headed to the Heckart Performing Arts Center on Wednesday afternoon. They had been told they were attending an assembly, but most didn’t know what for.
After viewing a video about the dangers and consequences of impaired driving, the students filed out the door to the scene of an accident at their own school, involving their peers. As the students settled into the bleachers, a young man made his way out of one of the mangled vehicles, drunk and stumbling toward a female student laying motionless on the asphalt. The young man, senior Zac Volk, was soon “arrested” for manslaughter, and first responders swarmed the scene to rescue those “trapped” inside the cars.
“When I was sitting in the cop car I realized how quick things can change,” Volk said.
“I was nervous to do it, but when we were in it, I started crying because it got so real,” said senior Michaela Pomajzl, who portrayed one of the students trapped in a vehicles.
“When the (police car) sirens went off, it hit me,” said senior Cheyenne Reed, who portrayed the female student on the asphalt and was pronounced “dead” at the scene. SCHS Assistant Principal Robin Wyatte was in the same vehicle as Reed, and also pronounced dead.
The scenario, called “Every 15 Minutes,” was executed exactly how first responders would handle a vehicle accident to show students the severity of what can happen when one not only drives while intoxicated, but drives impaired in any way, such as while using a cell phone. SCHS puts on the program every two years and although it may seem extreme to some, teacher Steve Schilb, who helped organize the event, said it helps get the message across to students.
“Kids today are visual learners,” he said. “They learn best by actually watching something.
“It was very powerful, some were crying. It really touches them. When they see it in real life, it’s better than just watching a video in the theater, when it unfolds before their eyes.”
Seven people under the age of 25 have been killed in vehicle accidents in the last year in Pettis County, and the title “Every 15 Minutes,” part of a national campaign, refers to the fact that one teenager is killed every 15 minutes in the United States as a result of a vehicle accident where a driver was impaired. When the scenario in the parking lot was finished, students made their way back to the PAC, where an emergency room scene was on stage. Pomajzl died on the table and Daniel Akin was declared paralyzed, which was followed by a memorial ceremony with three caskets on stage.
“Education is the most important thing there is. If you educate at least one kid it was worth it,” Schilb said. “I guarantee you today the program will have touched some people.”
Those involved in the scenario agreed with Schilb.
“I’ll definitely think twice before I pick up the phone (while driving),” Volk said.
“People don’t realize this happens every day,” Reed said. “We can agree we all text and drive, whether or not we want to admit it. It opens our eyes that this really does happen. Seeing it first hand puts it into perspective.”