Hoping to shock students into sobriety on prom night, Mount Hebron High School staged an alcohol-related car crash yesterday complete with a MedEvac helicopter, demolished cars and bloodied accident victims.
"With a visual impact like this, we're hoping to show them the reality of what happens after a car crash," said senior Steven O'Malley, 18, who helped coordinate the event.
The 35-minute presentation was part of the Ellicott City school's Prom Promise campaign -- a national program sponsored by Nationwide Insurance, in which students pledge not to drink and drive on prom night.
At least 300 juniors and seniors are expected to attend Mount Hebron's May 6 prom at Martin's West. Each of the county's eight high schools has a prom between late April and the end of May.
According to a 1992 countywide drug survey, nearly 26 percent of Howard County 12th-graders have driven under the influence of alcohol and about 50 percent have ridden in a car driven by a drunken motorist.
Christian Herrera, a 16-year-old Glenelg High School student, died in December in a car crash on Route 32.
The youth had a blood alcohol level of 0.059 at the time of his death. A level of 0.1 is the legal threshhold for drunken driving. It is illegal for anyone under 21 to drink alcohol.
Drunken teen causes crash
Yesterday's mock car crash -- which ran into trouble when the helicopter failed to appear during the first of three simulations -- involved a Toyota Celica containing a drunken teen-ager and his date supposedly smashing into the left side of a Dodge Aries driven by an unsuspecting victim.
"They're heading to the prom, and the driver's drunk," explained junior Ron Roach, 17, as he squirted "blood" from a syringe onto gashes marking his face, neck and arms. "I'm just the innocent driver, and they nail me."
The dramatization had Howard County firefighters using the "Jaws of Life" tool to pry open the door of one car and removing an unconscious, bleeding victim.
Meanwhile, state troopers arrested the drunken teen-ager after he failed a sobriety test.
The scenario also had one victim dying and a state police MedEvac helicopter taking the most seriously injured person to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.
Lt. Sean Kelly of Howard County Fire and Rescue Services narrated the chain of events from an emergency vehicle parked near the wrecked cars.
"Adam's only had four beers," Lt. Kelly said of senior Adam Olchowksi, 18, who portrayed the drunken teen-age driver.
"He thought he could handle it and drive. But look, he can't even walk straight."
Too real to be make-believe
The event, staged during each of the school's three lunch shifts, drew mixed reactions from students.
For Christy Fassio, a 14-year-old ninth-grader, the image of her classmates' bloodied faces seemed too real to dismiss as make-believe.
"Seeing it here with people you know . . . it really happens," she said.
Students are impressed
Others were impressed by the firefighters' equipment, especially the Jaws of Life.
"See how they got the doors open, man," said one admiring teen as he watched a firefighter use a pair of gigantic heavy metal pliers to tug loose a jammed door on the Dodge Aries. "So much compression."
Others, however, merely giggled or mugged for television camera crews who had come to cover the event.
Some left before the demonstration was over.
All three students who portrayed accident victims were from the school's Students Helping Other People, a group designed to raise alcohol and drug awareness among teens.
"I hope someone will not drink on prom night or designate a driver so we can at least save one life," said Becky Winebrenner, a 16-year-old sophomore who portrayed the date of the drunken driver.
Simulation is fun
Despite the serious intent of their message, the SHOP teens managed to have fun as well.
To simulate blood, the actors used a sugar-based red liquid, and applied rubber prosthetics to represent wounds and cuts on their faces, arms and necks.
Firefighters supplied the make-up kits.
"This is like torture," said the Roach youth as he checked his make-up in the rearview mirror of the Dodge.
Becky wore her black velvet homecoming dress over fake wounds from which blood spurted, thanks to a thin plastic tube connected to a hidden syringe she pumped enthusiastically.
The event took place on the school's front parking lot and involved nine Ellicott City firefighters from Howard County Fire and Rescue Services, two state troopers, an ambulance, a rescue squad unit and a fire engine.