With prom season approaching, students at Cassopolis High School got an up-close look on Friday at the destruction drinking and driving can cause, complete with fire trucks, a medical helicopter, the Jaws of Life and a hearse.
"Our goal is real life exposure," an announcer said as the simulation kicked off in the high school parking lot Friday morning.
A pickup truck and an SUV that had been totaled in real accidents were placed in the parking lot and filled with student and adult actors who had just gone through a mock drunk driving accident.
"Please send somebody!" an actor said, whiling pretending to dial 9-1-1.
In real time, area police and firefighters responded to the simulated scene with sirens blaring.
"I think it's important for us to see it before we go off to prom," said Santaja Gibson, a senior at the high school.
The visuals were hard to look at – high school students covered in fake blood, some playing unconscious or dead in their seats of the mangled cars.
As first responders pulled up, the student actor playing the drunk driver stood outside her SUV in disbelief.
"We're hoping to hit home with them," said Michigan State Police Trooper Jesse Binns. "A lot of people say it can't happen here, it won't happen here. It could very well happen at Cass High School. It could happen at any high school around here. You never know, one day you might wake up and one of your classmates is gone."
Binns said the simluations are meant to be hard to watch – and they pull out all the stops.
Firefighters used the Jaws of Life to rip open both vehicles. A medical helicopter landed in the high school parking lot to assist. And a local funeral home responded to the scene, like normal, to take away the dead.
"No one wants to end up like that," said Kyjuan Lanier, a senior. "Nobody wants to die on prom night."
"Honestly, the first thing that comes to my mind is how real it is," said Eain Forrest, another senior.
The event became even realer for the students who acted in the mock crash.
They got bloodied up before their classmates came out to watch.
Madi Shelton, who played the drunk driver, even took part in a roadside DUI test before she was ultimately handcuffed and arrested.
"Getting in the cop car and having to sit there while everything else was happening and not knowing what was going on is pretty intense," Shelton, who is a junior, said.
The entire high school looked on as their classmates were loaded onto stretchers, strapped into neck braces, and faced pretend consequences in real time.
The dangers of drinking and driving were in full view, including the worst possible outcome – a classmate dying in the mock crash.
"We don't see stuff like that around here," said Terryn Williams, a junior who acted in the simulation. "And I think everybody – that should be a wake-up call for everybody."
Binns said simulations like this have been happening in Michiana since the late 1990s.
He said another is planned for Monday at St. Joe High School, weather permitting.
Several students at Cassopolis High School said the images they saw on Friday will be on their minds the night they go to prom.