Mock crash confronts students with importance of making good decisions
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Mon., May. 16, 2011
A mock accident was staged at Tourtellotte Memorial High School on May 11 so that students could witness the dangers associated with drinking and driving.
Quinebaug Volunteer Fire Department member Justine Gendreau has been coordinating the demonstration for 10 years. A mother of a sophomore and a senior at TMHS, Gendreau is at the school often and knows many of the students. She said she doesn't want to see any of them in an accident, so she brought together a host of volunteers who donated their time in order to show students, step by grisly step, the consequences of drinking and driving.
Sgt. John Szamocki, from the State Police Major Crime Squad, narrated the accident, explaining the steps taken when there is a fatality. From the time a call is placed to the Quinebaug Valley Dispatch Center (911) to report a serious accident, to the time a body is removed from the scene and brought to the state medical examiner’s office, Szamocki explained the roles of the fire departments, EMTs, state police, and detectives. He hoped the students would take to heart the possible repercussions of making one bad decision.
“Kids can learn valuable lessons by it,” Szamocki said of the demonstration. “One bad decision can ruin your life and the lives of others.”
Szamocki has been with the state police for 25 years and has seen enough fatalities to know how gut-wrenching they can be. He has had to notify parents whose children have died.
“Parents have to be responsible,” Szamocki said. “They have to ask questions. They must have an understanding with their kids that they are teaching them to be responsible in life.”
Volunteers from Quinebaug, East Thompson, Thompson Hill and Community fire departments responded to the mock accident. State Troopers Rick Oenning and Pat Guertin came on the scene and started their investigation. When they realized there were two fatalities, they called their supervisor and detectives to the scene. Ambulances arrived. Firefighters used the “jaws of life” to open a car door and remove victims. One trooper gave the drunk driver sobriety tests. A truck from the Major Crime Squad responded to the scene. A father had to identify his dead daughter. Finally, a hearse from Valade Funeral Home came to retrieve the bodies of the deceased.
State Police Sgt. John Guari was the responding supervisor to the mock accident. “These demonstrations remind kids of the seriousness of their decisions,” he said.
Student Haley Berry saw just how serious it was when her father stood over her while she lay “dead” on the ground. When he came to identify her body, he was crying.
“The whole idea of this is to save lives,” said Vice Principal Daniel Pisaturo.
Students also watched the AT&T film “Don’t Text and Drive.” It recounted the stories of four young drivers whose lives were forever changed by the accidents caused by texting. Afterward, Michael Panus spoke to the students about killing his best friend after a night of drinking and driving.
Panus is had been a popular athlete in high school, a Marine and an avid party-goer. By his own accounts, he lived a charmed life. The night that turned his life into a nightmare was the night he killed his best friend in an accident when he was drunk. Panus is now serving prison time for second-degree manslaughter.
“I am not a video,” he said to the students. “Imagine being responsible for killing your friend. Convince yourself never to text or drink and drive. It’s a decision you can make today.”
The most heartbreaking story of the day came from Judy Daviau, who spoke to the students about her daughter, Rae Anne, who was killed in a car accident in August 2003. She was killed, Daviau said, by a boy who made every possible bad decision he could, as he traveled 97 miles an hour on Route 44, passing in a no-passing zone. Every organ in Rae Anne’s body was crushed and every bone in her body broken.
“It’s not always about texting or drinking and driving,” Daviau said. “It’s about making good decisions.” If there was any doubt in a student’s mind about the seriousness of the subject, Daviau’s eloquence dispelled it.
“This is what I have left of her,” Daviau said, holding up a small leather pouch with beaded trim. It held some of her daughter’s remains. “Imagine your parents having to make decisions about your funeral. Parents should never live longer than their kids. On my daughter’s behalf, I wish you all long and beautiful lives,” she said.