SINCLAIRVILLE - Cassadaga Valley Middle/High School was the scene of a mock driving while intoxicated crash this week.
As Chautauqua County Deputy Josh Ostrander later said, "This is as real as we can make it."
The first part of the program took place on the stage in the auditorium. A skit presented by CVCS students enacted a prom scene, complete with formal dresses for the girls, the excitement of getting pictures taken, dancing, and finally a game of beer pong. This drinking game set the stage for the portrayal of a tragedy.
Cassadaga Mock Crash
Chautauqua County deputies Josh Ostrander and Tom Delcamp, who work in a specialized driving while intoxicated (DWI) patrol, spoke to the students about the legal definitions of driving while intoxicated or impaired and the zero tolerance for drinking while driving under 21. For those under 21, there can be no measurable amount of alcohol (.02 percent or greater). While the drinking while driving under 21 at the lesser amount of alcohol does not create a criminal record, it is still handled much the same and results in loss of license.
The deputies focused on consequences and responsibility. Ostrander said, "We want you to be safe and healthy and have a clean record going forward in life."
There are a number of legal and financial consequences. DWI stays on a driving record for 10 years. It can cost thousands of dollars for fines and fees, and also has auto insurance consequences. In the case of a severe crash, jail time may be warranted.
OBSERVER Photo by Diane Chodan
Firefighters and Emergency Medical personnel arrive at the site of the mock DWI crash at Cassadaga Valley Central School.
Delcamp talked about social consequences. Those arrested have their names published; family and friends know what has happened.
He said, "More times than not drinking and driving can lead to a really bad situation when someone is hurt. You have to live with it. If something like this (an accident) happens, it's going to be for the rest of your life."
After the deputies' presentation, the students moved to the field outside to watch a simulated response to a head-on accident involving their friends. Students removed tarps to expose two damaged vehicles (supplied by Mom and Pop's) that appeared to have had a head-on collision
A loud speaker (supplied by Triple M Sound and Mike Sisson) let the students hear what was happening. A report of a serious PI (personal injury) accident on Route 380 at Redford Corners sent the deputy to the scene first, followed by emergency personnel from Sinclairville, Gerry, Stockton and Cassadaga Fire Departments who arrived in fire trucks and emergency vehicles. Students could hear the deputy receiving information about Ben Torres' license.
The realism was reinforced by the familiar people as well as the many things occurring at the same time. Torres was given field sobriety tests by the deputy as emergency personnel worked to free the other two victims, Meghan Brown and Brendon Winder, from the cars. One victim had to be freed using the "jaws of life." An ambulance took one victim from the scene. The Starflight medevac helicopter arrived next to transport the other to the Hamot Center in Erie. The Chautauqua County Coroner, Warren Riles, arrived about the same time the helicopter did.
The last vehicle to arrive was a hearse. David Christy from Jordan Funeral Home and Riles worked together with emergency personnel to remove victim Maggie Heath in a body bag.
The students, most of them somber, then walked back to the auditorium to witness the arraignment of Ben Torres in handcuffs for charges including seventh-degree possession of a controlled substance, driving while intoxicated, and second-degree vehicular manslaughter, a class D Felony. The last charge is punishable by seven years in jail, a fine of $5000 or both, plus five years probation.
A somber Christy received a simulated call from the Heath family and said, "I hope we can show her." He suggested clothing with a high neck and long sleeves to cover the injuries.
A radio announcement from J.J. Michaels from 106.9 KISS FM was heard, detailing the accident and its aftermath.
A funeral service was staged, featuring a student, Sierra Cuellar, who performed an emotional song in memory of her friend.
Finally Riles spoke to the students showing them what a body bag looks like and explained his job as coroner., "I have to document all the injuries and put all the toxicology on record," he said.
He then has to make a determination as to the manner of death and the cause of death. In a situation such as portrayed, he will have to present evidence at legal proceedings.
"You notice we call it a mock crash not a mock accident. A crash is a choice," he said.
Similar mock DWI crashes were held in Westfield and Brocton. Ron Hasson is the Starflight Mock DWI Crash Team Coordinator.
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