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Accident scene highlights dangers for teen drivers
CentralWreck 4
During the Ghost Out wreck simulation on Wednesday at Forsyth Central High School, Ryann Miller is taken away on a gurney by Forsyth County Fire Department and EMS personnel. - photo by Micah Green


* Watch video of the production at Forsyth Central High School.

CUMMING — The scene Wednesday was stark: A single-vehicle wreck involving four students from Forsyth Central High.

There was at least one fatality and two severe injuries. It appeared alcohol was a factor.

Law enforcement and emergency personnel swarmed the scene, which was actually a mock crash set up on the school’s football practice field to highlight the dangers of drinking and driving ahead of prom and graduation season.

“The biggest part of this is trying to make it look as real as possible,” said Doug Rainwater, spokesman for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office. “And the only way to do that is to have every deputy and all the other personnel in full uniform and acting under normal circumstances.

“We normally send about 10 deputies out to wrecks like this, so we had 10 deputies present today.”

The scene Rainwater, the sheriff’s office, Forsyth County Fire Department, Georgia State Patrol and other agencies set Wednesday was realistic, too. Student actors from Central helped sell the annual production to a crowd of hundreds of juniors and seniors.

It began with an onlooker, played by Dana Anderson, running up on the mock wreck, which involved four other students: Kayla Bennett, Michael Branigan, Dakotah Michaels and Ryann Miller. The students, who all used their real names, were clad in formal wear as if en route to or from a prom.

Bennett’s character died in the crash, while the others survived with varying degrees of injury.

Branigan’s character was driving the car and underwent a field sobriety test, which he failed after authorities arrived. He was promptly arrested.

Miller and Michaels were both strapped to gurneys. Miller’s character was to be taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital, while Michaels was picked up by a medical helicopter, which landed nearby.

While no expense was spared, Forsyth Fire Capt. Rick Hamilton said it didn’t cost much to pull everything together.

“Our sponsors really make it easier on us,” Hamilton said. “We get a wrecker to donate the car and the personnel are on duty anyway.

“But it is a huge coordinated effort between a lot of agencies, and the school [system’s] safety board does a good job at getting us all on the same page.”

According to the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, 709 drivers between the ages of 16 and 20 were involved in fatal crashes statewide between 2007-11, the most recent years for which figures were available.

“We bring it up now just to remind kids that their decision making matters,” said Steve Honn, the system’s school safety manager. “Whether it’s drinking and driving or whatever else, they have to be smart.”

Hamilton echoed Honn’s sentiments. Though the scenario that unfolded Wednesday involved alcohol, officials want students to realize that driving while distracted in any fashion can have lasting consequences.

“Yes, basically this is to promote awareness for driving under the influence,” Hamilton said. “But not just drinking or doing drugs and driving, but distracted driving too. You know, texting or trying to eat and drive, it’s all really dangerous.”

Many of the teenage students were visibly taken back by the realness of the situation, something Rainwater said is key.

“A lot of times, kids their age think they are invincible,” he said. “Hopefully, this will make them think twice before doing something dumb.”

Honn agreed that the scenarios can be ultrarealistic, but said he and the rest of the board feel the emotional pull is worth it.

“If we save one life,” he said, “we have done our job.”