Taking a toll
From 2008-12, 709 people ages 15 to 20 lost their lives in wrecks. That’s 64 percent of North Forsyth High School’s junior and senior class combined.
Watch the Studio Forsyth video on Wednesday's Ghost Out at North Forsyth High School.
NORTH FORSYTH — Two vehicles faced each other in a North Forsyth High School parking lot Wednesday, their windshields shattered and steel frames crushed from the impact of their collision.
It was April Fools’ Day, but no one laughed as they saw a bloodied arm hanging out of a rear window, the glass covering the floor of one of the vehicles.
No one laughed as they heard sirens speed to the site, the emergency personnel exiting to examine a front seat passenger, who lay 30 feet from a vehicle.
They didn’t laugh as they realized the basket a firefighter removed from the second car was a child seat. It was placed near the deceased 17-year-old clad in a shredded prom dress, a sheet for each.
North’s sophomores, juniors and seniors watched the scene unfold as part of the annual “Ghost Out,” a multi-agency collaboration to simulate a fatal wreck caused by an impaired teenage driver.
“It’s important that they see what could happen and the amount of people it takes and the hearts that get broken,” said Steve Honn, school safety manager for Forsyth County Schools. “Hopefully, they take back from this event and use it during prom season, during a time when their decisions need to be made on right and wrong and good and bad.”
Forsyth County’s sheriff’s office, fire department, coroner’s office, school administration, EMS service and Ingram Funeral Home all had personnel on the scene, as did the Georgia State Patrol and AirLife Georgia. Their presence reflected the six months it took to prepare for the event.
“Ghost Out” has been running for years, said Hannah Orr, the school system’s communications and partnerships facilitator, rotating among the five public high schools.
Michaela Bird, a senior at North, said she jumped at the opportunity to play a role in the re-enactment.
“If I could have any impact on one student, then I did my job,” Bird said. “If I could save one person’s life by having them think about this, then that’s why I wanted to do it.”
Bird played the young girl who was pronounced dead on scene after being thrown from the front seat. She was not wearing a seat belt and sustained brain and head injuries while crashing through the windshield.
She was one of seven people involved in the mock wreck. A voice over explained what happened in the wreck, down to the tenth-of-a-second. It takes a vehicle traveling 55 mph the length of a football field to come to a complete stop when slamming on the brakes.
Steel frames bend and break, “spraying glass like bullets,” said the voice of Ginger Adams, a 911 center communications officer.
She answered the 911 call by the lone witness, a student who needed to be calmed down after seeing Bird’s body and the injured occupants.
A male teen in the back seat, who also was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown around in the collision, sustaining facial lacerations and broken ribs. Simply from the force of the vehicle suddenly coming to a stop, his lungs were crushed by his own body weight.
The girl sitting next to him was the only belted occupant in that car. She was still knocked unconscious by the other bodies slamming into hers. She woke shortly after to see firefighters using the “jaws of life” to cut her out of the vehicle carcass.
“Just because you’re not the one drinking doesn’t mean you’re not the one who can be affected by it,” said Adams after the event, “or even die from it.”
As the 17-year-old teen driver failed field sobriety tests, officers broke the news to the married couple in the second car that their only child, an infant, did not survive. The child was belted into the car seat, but was whipped around too harshly.
“You killed my kid!” the father shouted as three firefighters held him away from the boy.
“We’ve had a lot of experiences at this school with fatalities who are personal friends. Our senior class has had almost one every year since ninth grade, so we can really relate,” said 12th-grader Perri Rabbitt, who read two poems from the perspective of the victim.
Last summer, 17-year-old Paul Louis Castell Jr., a rising senior at North, was killed in a single-vehicle wreck after leaving a party in a vehicle driven by Adam Robert Joseph Di Millo.
Di Millo, who had left the school the previous semester, was indicted on Nov. 10 for DUI and vehicular homicide.
“If we can take their deaths and do it in honor of them and in memory of them and apply it so it doesn’t happen again, then we will,” Rabbitt said. “A lot of people in this school have experienced how painful that is.”