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Beekmantown firefighters cover up Beekmantown High School student victim Grace Carlin during Operation Prom Night-s mock crash in Beekmantown. Students later heard first-person accounts of the deadly effects of drinking and driving

BEEKMANTOWN -- Adorned in a flowing white gown, Grace Carlin lay motionless on the crumpled hood of a Cavalier car as her classmates screamed in horror, crying out for help.

The shrill sound of their panicked voices echoed across the Beekmantown High School football field Thursday afternoon during a mock crash presentation about the dangerous effects of driving drunk.

REALISTIC ACCIDENT

Only two days before their prom, more than 100 upper-level students filled the outside bleachers as Jeff Stitt, a junior student athlete, slowly climbed from the mangled green car he was pretending to be driving home from an after-prom party.

Within seconds, the sound of blaring sirens filled the air as fire trucks, ambulances and police cruisers rushed to the "accident scene."

Several students shouted for help, trapped inside the two green cars that were set up to look like they hit head on.

"We try to make it as realistic as possible," said Beekmantown volunteer firefighter and EMT Kristie Lavarnway. "I think this really has an impact on the students. We haven't had any alcohol-related incidents since we've been doing this."

As crews worked to extract the immobile and "bloodied" students, their classmates looked on quietly, taking in the dramatic aftermath of what can happen when you drink and drive.

"It really touches a lot of people," said junior Kristen Noonan, a Students Against Destructive Decisions club member who will be attending tonight's prom at the Rainbow Wedding and Banquet Hall in Altona.

"It makes you think about yourself and your life."

LIFE DESTROYED

After several of the students were rushed from the accident in ambulances, and Carlin was somberly loaded into a hearse, the attentive audience migrated back into the school to hear a real-life account of the devastation caused by drunken driving.

"Your whole life is destroyed," said a tearful Maryann Dunlavey, who lost her 18-year-old son, Brandon, last spring when the car he was riding in was hit by a drunk driver.

As she emotionally recalled the night her well-known athlete son died, she urged the students to make a better choice than Charles Peryea did when he slid his keys into the ignition after drinking at a local bar.

"Don't drink. But if you do, don't drive. There's nothing wrong with handing over your keys. There's nothing wrong with calling a taxi. There's nothing wrong with calling your parents," she pleaded.

"It's just not worth it. Do the right thing."

"You have a choice to make. We can't make that choice for you," Trooper Bernard Bullis, a resource officer at the local school, added later.

DEAD SHIRTS

As the speakers urged the teens to make good choices, about 30 students, including Noonan, silently laid down on the stage, wearing black "dead" shirts.

Every half-hour, a SADD Club member was called to the office, where they put on the shirts, which read: "I was lucky. I only died for a day."

They were unable to speak for the rest of the day as they played "dead."

The students represented the national statistic that one person is killed every half-hour as a result of drunk driving, club adviser Ken Fuller explained.

"If we can save a single life or have even one person make a better choice, it's all worth it," said High School Principal Garth Frechette.

He described the event-filled party being held on campus after tonight's prom to discourage underage-drinking parties among his students.

"We have been having an after-prom party for about 20 years," he said, adding that in recent years the supervised party has become a successful joint effort between school officials and the community.

The events include jousting, casino games, movies, an outside bonfire and laser tag.

"It's worked out well in the past, and it's a lot of fun for the kids," Frechette said.

"We're just trying to eliminate as many chances (the students) may have to make a bad decision, and hopefully everyone will make good choices this year."



avanvalkenburg@pressrepublican.com

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