Saks High School junior Julianne Ward never expected to be put into a hearse at such a young age, even if it was for a dramatization.
“I never want to do that again,” she said. “It felt really sad.”
Ward was one of four students included in a demonstration warning against distracted and drunk driving. Calhoun County sheriff’s deputies, Anniston firefighters, Anniston EMS, the Calhoun County Coroner’s Office and a Lifesaver medical helicopter team participated in the demonstration ahead of the school’s prom on Saturday.
Covered in a red, viscous syrup meant to represent blood, Ward portrayed a student who suffered traumatic injuries in a head-on collision. Her character died before a Calhoun County deputy arrived at the scene.
“As an alive person playing someone dead, I was proud to take on the role knowing some of my classmates might take more of their actions into consideration,” she said.
Students from the Students Against Destructive Decisions club, known as SADD, coordinated with the agencies to put the program together. Dewayne Davis, a chemistry teacher and sponsor of the SADD program, said the impact upon students can be large.
“I’m usually in the press box working behind the scenes, but I’ve been told by teachers that students get upset and cry during this demonstration,” Davis said.
Having students involved in the program makes the experience all the more sobering for students, Davis said.
“I think it hits home when you know that person,” he said. “One of my students was in the press box and at one point she got upset seeing her best friend being put on a backboard. She knew it wasn’t real, but it still made an impact on her.”
Typically the demonstration warns students to avoid driving while under the influence, but it’s becomes increasingly more apparent distracted driving is on the rise, Anniston fire training officer Johnnie Phelps said. Phelps helped coordinate the event on Friday with the first responder agencies.
“Almost every wreck we work has an element of distraction or impairment,” Phelps said. “We don’t even call them accidents anymore. We call them crashes.”
Phelps said wrecks involving high school students tend to increase during the spring and these types of demonstrations provide a “glimpse of reality.”
“They’ve got prom, spring break and graduation they’re excited about, and they might do things out of that excitement they wouldn’t normally do,” Phelps said. “The consequences of texting and driving needs to be presented in a more emotional way. I think bringing in the helicopter and watching a classmate go away in it delivers that emotional impact.”