See Ghost Out on Studio Forsyth. See Video.
WEST FORSYTH — Above the sirens, a medical helicopter and cries of help from both the teenagers trapped inside a vehicle, the sights stood out the most.
The bodies of a 17-year-old and a 1-year-old lying next to the mangled vehicles. The 18-year-old driver who caused the two-car collision by driving under the influence. The father overcome with emotion as he realizes his infant — and only child — did not survive.
The scene that played out in the West Forsyth High School parking lot Wednesday morning was not real. No one was injured, and no one died.
But the dramatization represented an all-too real scenario that does occur more often than some young drivers may realize.
Ghost Out, an annual program put on by numerous local agencies at a different high school each year, aims to prevent students from driving while intoxicated or distracted.
“We’re hoping to help with decision making during this time of the year, with the weather getting nice and prom season,” said Steve Honn, school safety manager for Forsyth County Schools.
“We do understand there is an underage drinking problem across the United States, and we want to help kids make better decisions about getting behind the wheel and affecting their current life, their future life and the lives of other innocent people.”
The scenario involved two vehicles — one carrying high school students on their way to prom and the other carrying a married couple and their young child.
While the scene played out, with students who attend the host high school acting as those involved, the 911 call was heard in between statistics and explanations on a loudspeaker.
“Attempting to stop yourself from hitting the dashboard of your car or windshield, or keeping yourself from being thrown from a vehicle traveling at only 30 mph is like stopping the momentum of a head-first dive from a three-story building,” recited Ginger Adams, a 911 dispatcher.
The students who watched the performance were sophomores and juniors.
“Forsyth County has averaged 14.8 fatalities due to crashes from 2008 to ’12. An alarming 22 fatalities occurred in Forsyth County in 2012 due to traffic accidents. Twenty-eight percent of these fatalities included alcohol,” Adams said as the crash scene unfolded.
“The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety reports over 5,200 deaths have occurred on our Georgia roadways in the last four years, and this equates to 25 fatal wrecks every week.
“Seven hundred and nine of those fatalities involved young adults under the age of 20. Many of those 709 deaths were high school students themselves. Perhaps many of you remember their names.”
Honn said the impact is greater when the consequences of drinking and driving can be seen.
Two fatalities. Jail time for a DUI conviction. Massive medical bills for the survivors. Lost friends and estranged family.
“It’s kind of hush hush, but we all need to talk about it and be reminded of it,” said Colette Caspar, a sophomore at West who read a monologue during the funeral dramatization.
Peyton Smith, a senior who played the 911 caller added, “It’s an important message. Hearing my friends scream and asking if [the girl killed] was OK [was the most impactful part].”
Honn, a former law enforcement officer, said he has always tells students to “take an extra 10 seconds to think about what they’re about to do.”
“One mistake doesn’t need to lead to two,” he said. “So just because we made the bad decision of drinking doesn’t mean we have to then get behind the wheel.
“Let’s own up to what we did, and at least we can live another day to get through it.”
Students watched first responders rip open a car with the Jaws of Life tool to rescue an injured passenger. They watched their classmate fail a field sobriety test and get arrested.
A medical helicopter then touched down to pick up his severely injured friend. They watched the coroner take the bodies away and saw the two caskets surrounded by family and friends.
“West Forsyth High School’s current enrollment is 2,474 students. Put into perspective that 709 drivers between the ages of 15-20 have been killed in vehicle crashes in the last four years,” said Adams over the loudspeaker.
“Seven hundred and nine fatalities would be equal to losing 57 percent of your junior and senior class combined.”
Honn said the event is meant solely for the teenagers.
“It hangs on the kids’ decision,” he said. “But if we can make one kid walk away and say, ‘Oh uh, that’s not going to be me this year,’ we’ve done our job.”