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Mock wreck evokes emotion

Members of the Gwinnett County Fire Services and Medical Unit participate in a reenactment of a DUI auto accident showing students at North Gwinnett High School the consequences of driving under the influence Monday in Suwanee. The program is a teen driver safety initiative called "In a split second" that was put on by Duluth Police  and Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

Members of the Gwinnett County Fire Services and Medical Unit participate in a reenactment of a DUI auto accident showing students at North Gwinnett High School the consequences of driving under the influence Monday in Suwanee. The program is a teen driver safety initiative called "In a split second" that was put on by Duluth Police and Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

SUWANEE -- Julie Scott stands shivering in the bitter winter wind outside North Gwinnett High School. Tears stream down her cheeks. Her face is flushed, lips trembling.

Her eyes are fixed on the shape of two mangled, metal frames hidden beneath a tan tarp near the field's 50-yard line. Underneath the tarp, her son, Chad Scott, is slumped against the dashboard of a blue sedan, his face covered in fake purple contusions and dried, red corn syrup.

With a tissue, Julie Scott wipes a tear from her cheek as she watches volunteers remove the tarp. Unlike her son, she is not acting.

"I know it's not real," Julie Scott said, "but it feels strange. It's a little too close to home."

Chad Scott, 18, was one of several North Gwinnett High School students who agreed to be "victims" in a realistic motor vehicle crash reenactment Monday morning aimed at discouraging distracted or drunk driving.

From the stadium stands, more than 2,500 silent students watched a dramatic sequence of events that included the arrival of nearly a dozen rescue and police vehicles. Lt. Bill Stevens said he hoped the reverent silence was a testament to the event's effectiveness.

"Based on how quiet it was out there in the stands, I think we hit our mark today," said Stevens of the Duluth Police Department. He and other volunteers and organizers packed the press box, watching the dramatic spectacle unfold.

Sponsored by Duluth Police and the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, "In a Split Second," also brought together Suwanee and Gwinnett County Police as well as the Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Service and Gwinnett Medical Center. Stevens said it was the volunteer work of students, however, that made it work.

"We've been working with them for several months getting ready for this day," Stevens said. "They've done quite an amazing job in preparing."

Students Alice Lee, 17, and Leeah Emerson, 18, said getting involved was a "good opportunity" to teach the importance of driver safety.

"If it saves just one person's life it was all worth it," Emerson said.

Lee and Emerson were "victims" in the mock accident. Lee said it was "kind of freaky and kind of scary to be involved."

Added Lee: "I hope it's an eye opener for all these students."

If the crash reenactment didn't drive the message home, Thursday morning's scheduled mock funeral honoring the "victims" just might.

Those involved were sworn to secrecy so that the mock funeral and reenactment would remain confidential until students stepped out onto the field Monday. This, Emerson explained, was "so that it would make a bigger impact."

Chad Scott said the impact would likely be immense. "Hopefully nobody is too shaken up by this," the young man said, fake stitches etched across his temple. "People will be sad, but this is an important thing. I hope it makes a lasting impression."

Scott's mother, Julie, wasn't crazy about the idea when her son first brought it up. "It's a hard thing to ask me to watch," she said. "It's every mother's worst nightmare played out."