Story last updated at 1:24 p.m. Thursday, April 18, 2002

'Crash' drives home message on drinking
by Carey James
Staff Writer

photo: news
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Colby Sander plays a paralyzed victim in a mock car accident Monday as Homer Volunteer Fire Department members Carla Stanley and Kip Walrath get ready to move him from the wreckage. Driver Libby Bushell plays a dead driver in the scenario.  
Hundreds of high school students watched Monday as medics and rescuers ripped the top off an accordioned car, loaded classmate Colby Sander on a stretcher and placed the telling white sheet over Libby Bushell's body, covering her fuchsia prom dress and heels.

Sam Bushell, the driver of the other crumpled vehicle, was placed in handcuffs and read his rights by a police officer.

This time, Libby Bushell was able to wipe the fake blood off her neck and return to school. Sam Bushell was able to climb out of the police car and take off the restrictive handcuffs. Sander walked away, despite an earlier diagnosis of paralysis from the neck down, and Carly Garay, who was riding in Sam Bushell's car, won't have nightmares about the crash for years to come.

While this car accident was staged, hundreds of teens nationwide are killed each year in drunk-driving accidents, many during annual high school festivities such as proms and graduations. In Alaska, 15 people ages 15-20 were killed in alcohol-related car accidents last year, and police say Homer has a consistently high number of teenage drinking and driving incidents.

  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Homer volunteer firefighters cut the room off a car during Monday's crash demonstration at Homer High  
Organizers of Monday's demonstration say they hope it will leave a lasting impression on the Homer High School students, especially as they head off to their prom this Saturday.

"The idea is to try to make kids aware of the problem," said Homer Police Chief Mark Robl. "To get them to think, 'This could happen to me.' We might not reach all of them. Some will just laugh it off, but even if one or two think about it, then we've done something."

The mock car crash was a collaboration between Choices for Teens, the Homer Volunteer Fire Department and the Homer Police Department, as well as the four Homer High "victims."

Students were brought to the bottom of the high school parking lot around 9:30 a.m. Monday. Two speakers broadcast the sound of two cars crashing into each other and tarps were pulled away, revealing two cars crumpled together in a head-on collision. Sam Bushell stumbled out of a car and called for help. A police car sped to the scene followed by the Homer Volunteer Fire Department rescue truck and an ambulance.

Rescuers immediately began work disassembling one car with Libby Bushell and Sander trapped inside. They broke windows, used large saws and the Jaws of Life tool to peel the roof and the passenger side door off. Sander was carefully lifted out of the vehicle with a trickle of blood coming from his mouth. Blood covered Libby Bushell's neck and head. She was lifted lifelessly from the car, placed on a backboard and laid in front of the crowd. Rescuers covered her with a white sheet.

Meanwhile, Homer Police Officer Andy DeVeaux put Sam Bushell through a sobriety test. He staggered through the test and was handcuffed and charged with a laundry list of offenses, including manslaughter, reckless endangerment, assault, driving while under the influence and minor consuming alcohol. Two of the charges are felonies, carrying a sentence of up to 20 years each, the narrator told students.

As the scenario wound up, Homer Choices for Teens member and narrator Dustin Franz told the crowd, "Our choices not only affect our lives but others' lives as well. We urge you and encourage you to make responsible choices."

Afterward, Franz, 20, said he was watching the expressions of the crowd during the incident, and felt it reached many of the students.

"It got through a lot," he said. "From my experience in high school, people said don't do this and don't do that and it never sank in. When you are in high school, you don't really think of the consequences of things."

Police officer DeVeaux said for some students, demonstrations like Monday's might make an impression.

"You can always hope," the message gets through, he said. "The only way you can fail is if you don't try."

Homer High assistant principal Bev Gillaspie said concerns that students might make poor decisions by drinking and driving rise around prom time and graduation. She said the school tries hard to address the issue, but that parents and the whole community need to participate to make a difference.

"I just encourage parents to know where their kids are, who they are with, and have a conversation with your child" about drinking and driving, she said. "I recommend to parents that it's OK to

say no."

In the end, however, it's up to the students to make the ultimate decision to be safe during Saturday night's prom festivities.

"The fact that we haven't had a bad accident involving teen-age drinking in the last few years is more luck than anything else," said Robl. "I hope our luck doesn't run out."