Getting 700 teenagers together for anything is rare.
Getting them to sit still for 30 minutes is pretty much out of the question.
Unless, that is, you put a mock crash in front of them.
Put a guy like Nick Burslie behind the wheel of a wrecked car. Have him “pretend” he’s drunk. Heck, we all know he’s pretending. I mean, it’s 1 p.m. in the middle of a school day.
But there he is, walking through a field sobriety test.
Sprawl a girl like Freya Hanson on the hood of the car, smeared in blood. She doesn’t move. For 30 minutes. They wrap her in a sheet, and she’s taken away. It’s the easiest role she’ll ever play in her life.
Only, it’s not.
Put a guy like Caleb Figaro in front of his friends. He’s distraught, and confused. His friend’s prom date is dead. His date is in the back screaming, possibly with a broken back.
Finish is off with a shining young person like Brianna Hoffman in the back. And Sam Gonner on the road. Both are severely injured. If only for the next 30 minutes.
Send in first responders as fast as you can. First, it’s the Wright County Deputy you’ve seen around school. The one who is friendly enough to have a conversation with you in the hallway, but tough enough that calls to the high school have dropped each year he or she has been there.
Then, bring in the volunteer firefighters. These guys are our dads. Our uncles. Our cousins. Our coaches and our friends. They’re tending to a dead body. To kids they know trapped inside wreckage. This is their “other” job. But it’s the one they take home. Imagine putting these guys in that position.
Yep, that will quiet 700 teenagers down. If only for a half hour.
Yes, we need mock crashes. We need to do this every two years because we need it to be just this – a portrayal. We, St. Michael, Albertviile, Hanover, and Otsego, have been through so much already over the past five years that to think something like this could happen to our kids on prom night – or any night – is almost too much to think about. You don’t want to wrap your head around it but you can’t.
But you can see it. Every other year. In front of you. If only for a half an hour.
We need mock crashes because it’s not just alcohol. It’s phones. Lots and lots of those stupid phones. Because we can’t put them down. And when we don’t put them down we may as well have beer cans pouring out of our back car door, because you’re driving blind. You’re not looking down the road. And your car may as well be a missile cruising at 50 MPH through that intersection when it broadsides the father and his daughter heading home from a movie. Or dinner.
We need mock crashes because 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds are invincible, if only in their minds. This, they think, could never happen to them.
And then they watch, and see, that it easily could.
So write out that check to rent the party bus. Offer to pile 15 kids into your minivan to get them, safely, to the Lafayette on Saturday night.
Take away the keys. Power down their phones.
Because we need mock crashes. But we never need to experience the real thing.