Mock crash makes impact
A prerecorded boys teenage voice came over a speaker set up in the back of Esko High School asking another teen to drive faster.
"You have to hit them or we are out," urged another voice as students gathered outside and listened. After more conversation, it became evident the teens were participating in the popular Nerf Wars.
As the conversation between the teens continued, they discussed using their phones and driving to the school parking lot. Suddenly, one of the teenagers yelled to watch out for a car that was driving erratically. Next, the sound of tires screeching filled the air, then a crash, followed by silence.
Dea DeLeon, Riggs Olson, Ella Magnuson, Carter Northey, Aubrey Compo and Zach Moore — all members of the student council — had volunteered to act as victims in a mock crash Thursday, April, 26.
About a year ago, a team of EHS employees attended the Cloquet High School mock crash, Esko High School Principal Greg Hexum said.
"That group was impressed with speaker, Matt Logan, and the broad community partnerships and investment in this activity from local and state agencies," he said. "The event was tailored to Esko students and designed to go beyond simply showing the potentially tragic consequences for teens who are distracted while driving. Students were immersed in real-life events that sparked thinking and conversations about our choices related to driving."
The mock crashes are part of a Driving 4 Save Communities Coalition that partners with several local departments and businesses.
"The Esko students mock crash scene was excellent and well-planned out," Allison Nicolson, injury prevention coordinator at Essentia Health Care in St. Mary's Medical Center. She is also the coordinator for the Driving 4 Safe Communities coalition and helps organize the events.
The combination of the mock crash, pre-education in the classroom, a distracted driving simulator and a guest speaker such as Matt Logan help increase the odds of making an impact with teenage drivers, according to Nicolson.
The students worked for a year planning and writing the script for the mock crash. They visited the WKLK radio station in Cloquet. With the help of Jake Kachinski, they recorded the script that was played over the loudspeakers to set the scene before the cars were uncovered to reveal the bloody "victims."
Moore called 911 to report the "accident" and students listened as the operator asked what the emergency was and explained to Moore what was going to happen.
Soon, Carlton County law enforcement, the Esko Volunteer Fire Department, Minnesota Highway Patrol and Cloquet Area Fire District appeared on the chaotic scene.
The students watched as Compo, who had been driving one of the cars, was handcuffed and arrested for her part in causing the accident.
Magneson was able to walk to the ambulance, but a bloodied Northey was placed on a backboard and carried.
Firefighters cut the roof off of a car with the Jaws of Life to get a seriously injured Olson out of the car. After he was placed on a backboard, he was loaded into the Life Link helicopter for a few minutes.
DeLeon crashed through the windshield of the car and died at the scene. A sheet was placed over her body, splayed on the hood of the car, her long hair covering her face.
After the other victims were removed, DeLeon was placed in a body bag and firefighters moved her into the back of a hearse brought in by Atkins Funeral Home to give the students a realistic visual.
"It gave me a good perspective of what it would be like," DeLeon said. "I could hear the voices fading and my cousin screaming. It was a different perspective and an eye-opener."
"I was personally impressed by the heartfelt engagement of everybody involved in the activity," Hexum said. "This event empowered us to uphold our responsibility to ourselves and our community in keeping our roadways safe for all."
Students went to the gym after the mock crash to listen to guest speaker Matt Logan.
He engaged the students as he told how his daughter, DJ, died on her way home from school on the first day of her senior year.
DJ took a first-day selfie after finding the perfect outfit and getting her hair and makeup just right. She was excited about her senior year and graduating from high school.
She called her father after school that day around 3 p.m. They discussed which errands she had to run as well lunchtime drama she was unhappy about.
Logan came upon the crash on his way home. After speaking to an officer, he discovered it was his daughter's car crumpled under the back end of a stopped school bus.
According to witnesses at the scene, his daughter had been driving straight and steady. She wasn't speeding, either.
Later, it was determined she had been in the process of typing a text that was never sent.
Logan said she usually texted with a thumb and had probably just looked down quickly and did not see the bus had stopped in front of her before she drove into the back end.
That text was the reason she died. Logan told the silent students the text was not worth her life. He asked students to put down their phones and pay attention while they drive.
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, 74,4772 traffic crashes were reported in 2015.
Contributing factors attributed to teen drivers, inattention or distraction, 2,840 (22.2 percent); failure to yield right of way, 1,886 (14.7 percent); and following too close, 1,438 or (11.2 percent).
The top four contributing factors of road fatalities were speed, distraction, impaired driving and failing to wear a seat belt.