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Manchester Valley High students learn consequences of drinking and driving

When senior Sarah Burd arrived at Manchester Valley High School on Friday morning, she didn't go to her normal first period class but instead to a mock funeral of her own death caused by a drunken driver.

It was held during an assembly, after she had spent the previous night in a hotel without any contact from the outside world.

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"Even though it wasn't real, it felt so real," said Burd, 18, who burst into tears onstage along with her peers during an emotional assembly.

"I hope this never happens to anyone. … I was thinking about my everyone — my sister, my best friend and my parents — and how it would be possible to never see anyone again and how that could to happen to anyone in this room," Burd said to an auditorium full of people, which included her father, Marlin Burd, stepmother, Mindy Caltrider, and twin sister, Lisa Burd.

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The day before, during a simulation provided to the school through the Every 15 Minutes Program, 40 students selected by school staff were removed from class by a Grim Reaper.

The program was created in the 1990s when someone died every 15 minutes in an accident caused by drunken driving, said Amy Carney, an emergency medical services lieutenant who organized the program. The program simulates the experience of being in a car accident caused by drunken or distracted driving.

"It has since changed to every 51 minutes, so we are making progress," Carney said to the audience. "This is the safest way to frame real-life experience before it actually happens."

After a student was removed from class, a police officer went into his or her classroom and read an obituary to classmates written by the supposed victim's parents.

The removed students' faces were painted white, they were dressed in black clothing and were sent back to class, explained Jennifer Wennell, health and human social sciences academy leader, who helped organize the program.

"For us this is their prom program — this is them trying to make good choices when they go out that weekend," Wennell said.

Manchester Valley High's prom will be held May 16.

At 1 p.m. on Thursday, local volunteer firefighters from Lineboro, Manchester and Hampstead volunteer departments performed a mock car accident when they re-enacted a drunken driving scene.

Burd played a person who died at the scene. She was covered with a tarp, as a person who died at the scene of an actual crash would be.

"I kept thinking about my best friend, and I kept thinking about my parents — and it was just really hard to keep my cool," Burd said. "When I heard my dad's voice trying to identify me, it was really hard to hear."

Afterward, parents and students broke out into groups and listened to speakers talk about the consequences of drunken driving. Parents and students wrote letters to one another, telling them what they would have wanted to say if they had died, which were read during an assembly Friday morning.

Burd was one of four students chosen to reflect on the experience along with Colton Davis, Jacob Shinsky and Taylor Carhart.

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Before the assembly, caskets were set out onstage. In front of them, framed photos of the 40 students removed from class the day prior lined the stage for the mock memorial service.

Parents spoke of their love of their children, pleading with them to make the right choices when getting behind the wheel. Students told their parents how much they loved them, promising to make the right choices while driving.

Jon Jaret, an emergency medical technician and firefighter with the Gamber volunteer fire company, was one of 13 volunteer firefighters who facilitated the program.

"Statistically, homecoming and prom are the two seasons when kids are most likely to make bad decisions," Jaret said. "I think it's important to start young with education to make them see how their decisions affect everybody else."

The program ended with a speech from Ellen J. Lurig, of Bloomsbury, N.J., whose son Robert Lurig was killed by a drunken driver in 1998.

Tyler Spires, 15, a sophomore who was chosen to participate, said though people were joking about the program, not taking it seriously at first, it really began to feel like real life.

"It's kind of emotional," Spires said. "It changes your perspective."

But it was Lurig's speech that really moved him.

"It showed how your actions can affect people overall," he said.

Burd, who plans to attend prom with her boyfriend, said the experience made her think about the consequences of her actions.

"I'm going straight home after," she said.

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