An empty casket iis a reminder to North Gwinnett High School students of the dangers of distracted driving during a reenactment of a funeral Thursday 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.
North Gwinnett crash reenactment and mock funeral
Students at North Gwinnett High School watched as volunteers and safety officials put together a crash reenactment on the football field, an event designed to teach the importance of driver safety. Three days later, the students watched a mock funeral.
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 50-yard line. Under 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 last week who agreed to be "victims" in a realistic motor vehicle crash enactment Monday aimed at discouraging distracted or drunk driving.
On Thursday, students watched a mock funeral of their fellow student from the stadium stands.
More than 2,500 silent students observed the dramatic sequence of events, which began Monday with the arrival of nearly a dozen rescue and police vehicles and ended Thursday with the closed-casket funeral. Lt. Bill Stevens said he hoped the reverent silence at both events was a testament to the initiative's effectiveness.
"Based on how quiet it was out there in the stands, I think we hit our mark," 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 enactment didn't drive the message home, Thursday morning's scheduled mock funeral honoring the "victim" just might have.
A local pastor gave the eulogy, while several dozen friends and relatives wearing black sat in chairs at a staged funeral parlor on the 50-yard line -- the same place where the accident was staged on Monday.
Community member Dave Burdette spoke frankly to the school population following the funeral.
"Texting and tweeting and checking your Facebook," he told them, "is just as dangerous as drinking and driving."
Burdette lost his son, Taylor, in a car wreck on Nov. 1, 2007. The young man was 16 years old when he died.
Burdette said it was because of a driver's "fatal error" that his son lost his life.
He encouraged students on Thursday to think of his son, Taylor, the next time they get behind the wheel.
Principal Ed Shaddix spoke after Burdette, encouraging students to heed the warning.
"We want you to live," Shaddix said. "We want you to graduate. We want you to learn from your mistakes, but make mistakes that you can recover from."
Students silently stood on Thursday, exiting the stadium and walking back to their classrooms.
Prior to the events, those involved were asked to keep the mock funeral and enactment secret. 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 was a hard thing to ask me to watch," she said. "It's every mother's worst nightmare played out."