A Life And Death Lesson

It’s less time than it takes to watch an episode of the The Voice.

Every 30 minutes, someone dies in an alcohol-related crash and nearly one-third of those crashes involve those between 16 and 24 years of age.

On Thursday, Sheffield High School students got a crash course on the impact of alcohol-related accidents just in time for prom.

After an assembly where they heard from Youngsville Borough Police Chief Todd Mineweaser and Justin Ludwig with Deerfield Behavioral Health, students were ushered outside where a grisly scene awaited.

They were seated on bleachers as students furtively glanced at two vehicles covered in tarps.

Students were asked to cover their eyes while Chuck Fetzeck with the Warren County Sheriff’s Department gave some facts about teens and alcohol-related accidents.

And then the screaming began.

Fetzeck continued on, asking students to continue keeping their eyes covered, and outlined a scenario as the strangled cries of students’ peers echoed in the background.

Four students, none of them drinking, are on their way to prom. They’re driving down Route 6 when a drunk driver strikes them from the side with his vehicle.

Students were asked to keep their eyes covered until they heard the first emergency response vehicles arrive.

Minutes ticked by to the sounds of crying for help.

Fetzeck informed the crowd that the average response time before emergency responders arrive at a crash in our rural area is 15 minutes.

A voice faintly screamed for his best friend. Another begged to be let out accompanied by the sound of a hand beating against a window.

Minutes continued to tick by before emergency personnel could even be dispatched.

All in all, it took approximately 20 minutes before students were allowed to open their eyes.

Twenty minutes while blood drained away and passengers desperately screamed for help from the time a passer-by happened to call 911.

By the time the first responder arrived, a lone figure who arrived in a truck ahead of others without the equipment to get anyone out alone, one of the passengers had died.

As responders from Kane, Cherry Grove, Sheffield, Clarendon and the police and sheriff’s office arrived; passengers remained trapped as the lone responder radioed information and tried to find a way to open a door.

Eventually, the cars windows had to be smashed, doors removed and the roof cut-away to get the three survivors out.

The girl in the passenger seat and her two friends in the backseat were carefully removed from the car and sped to the hospital by ambulance on body boards.

Two were bound for local facilities, one, the most seriously injured, on the much longer road for Erie; assuming they survived the trip.

They had a chance to make it through, to carry the memory of the day their friend died for the rest of their lives.

They left the driver for last. Nothing they did could help a boy who was already dead.

After the survivors were accounted for, responders removed the limp body of the driver from behind the wheel.

He was lifted unceremoniously onto a morticians stretcher and zipped into a body bag.

The coroner thrust a long syringe into his chest and soon his parents arrived.

Police held back the boy’s grieving mother before students streamed by to take a last look at their classmate before he was wheeled into the back of a hearse for one of the last rides he would ever take.

After the crash, students shuffled silently back into the auditorium.

Christina Fitch with the Warren County Victim Impact Panel opened the assembly.

She told students she has been helping organize panels for nine years, “Unfortunately, every year I get more members.”

A former student spoke first, recounting how his brother, a Sheffield graduate in 2004, died after driving drunk following a party. He was 20 years-old at the time.

He noted it wasn’t just his brother’s life that was lost. He said his brother, “…didn’t have to stand at a funeral home a see waves of people… didn’t have to stand at his brother’s grave… didn’t have to see the sadness in our mother’s eyes that’s still there seven years later… didn’t have to see our father become a shell of the man he once was… didn’t have to see our family fall apart.”

He recalled sitting through a mock crash when he was in high school and recalled what it was like.

“When I sat here at that assembly,” he said. “I never thought I would be on this stage ten years later. That it would hit that close to home. I didn’t think it would ever destroy my family… I want you to take one thing away. Don’t drink and drive because it really could be you.”

Another woman spoke about the death of her niece, a Youngsville graduate, who was killed by a drunk driver when she was 27 years old.

“I want to spare you what happened to us,” she said. “This is all about choices.”

Warren County Coroner Jerry Borden introduced students to some of the volunteers who helped with the crash and noted many of them took off of work to help.

“We’re all here because we care about you,” he said.

Borden went on to note the county hasn’t had a serious accident on prom or graduation night since 1986, a streak he attributed to the mock crashes.

Borden cautioned, “But if you do drink, use your head and don’t drive.”

Fetzeck added that texting and driving can be just as dangerous, noting that 57 deaths occurred in Pennsylvania from texting and driving in 2012.