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Students learn hard lessons watching staged accident

DULUTH - As one Duluth High School student was pulled from a wrecked car Monday and placed in a body bag, another was lifted into an Emory helicopter. Meanwhile, another student was handcuffed and escorted into the back of a police cruiser after failing a field sobriety test.

A few hundred students watched as the scene unfolded on Duluth's football field.

Some listened as the officer questioned the student, cheering when she was cuffed and taken away. Others talked and giggled amongst themselves.

The accident scene was staged to raise students' awareness about the effects of drunken driving, and the aftermath will unfold throughout the week.

A staged funeral will take place at the end of the school day Thursday, and videos of scenes at the hospital and the jail will be shown on the morning announcements, said Immanuel Phillips, Duluth's student body president.

"Students are doing their part to help other students do the right thing," Phillips said. "We're working hard to prevent destructive behavior."

Senior Katherine Liu, who played the part of the drunken driver, said she thinks the program is important, especially with spring break and the prom coming up in April.

Sophomore Logan Orvis, who played the injured student, said participating in the program helped him understand how drunken driving could affect someone's life. After being placed on a stretcher and put into an ambulance (he didn't make it on the helicopter, however, because paramedics had a dummy ready to put on the aircraft), he said he understands how the scenario could unfold in real life.

"I understand how my friend could die," he said. "It could upset me in real life."

Although Phillips said some students weren't as attentive during the assembly as others, many students had thoughtful conversations throughout the day.

"In all honesty, some of the behavior (at the assembly) wasn't at the top of the line," he said. "Older kids, especially the ones with driver's licenses, really saw the effects and had the most thought provoking (conversations)."

The conversations could continue throughout the week. The student who depicted the injured student will return to school on crutches, after spending some time isolated in the in-school suspension program. The students who played the parts of the drunken driver and the deceased teen will spend the week in in-school suspension, to allow classmates to feel their absences, Phillips said.

Liu said it won't be fun to be isolated from the rest of the school, but she thinks her absence will make the situation seem more real.

"It puts more emphasis on how real the situation is," she said.

Orvis said he received a few phone calls after school from students who recognized him.

"It made me think," he said. "It really made me feel important. You would want as much, to feel important and loved, if something like this happened. I know I would be."

The Duluth Police Department's community policing and traffic enforcement units, Gwinnett County fire and emergency medical services, and Emory Flight worked together to produce the scene. A $47,000 grant from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety helped fund the program, which will take place at 16 high schools throughout the state, Duluth Lt. Bill Stevens said.

Student Government co-adviser Laura Clark said she heard about the program and pitched the ideas to students, who worked for about six months preparing for the assembly.

"Unfortunately, the scene depicts a typical DUI," Clark said. "Innocent bystanders are hurt, and the drunk driver comes out in one piece."

Programs such as this could help save a lot of families from heartache, Orvis said.

"If you're drinking, don't drive," he said. "It"s as simple as that."