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Murray Journal

Mock crash teaches Murray High students about realities of distracted driving

Aug 01, 2019 09:26AM ● By Julie Slama

Firefighters use the jaws of life to extract Murray High senior Matthew Watson from a mock car accident to teach students about the possible impact of distracted driving. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

No Pomp & Circumstance. No autographs in the yearbook. No all-night senior party.

Instead of planning a senior trip, classmates filed into the gym for a funeral service. It was five days before commencement when two seniors at Murray High School were killed in a car accident. The cause: texting. 

Classmates came to remember senior Alexa Watne, who was involved in the school’s theater program and played on the soccer team, who had planned to attend Southern Utah University in business management. Lying beside her was senior Matthew Watson, the oldest of four children, who loved to go to Disneyland with his family and was involved in the school’s performing arts program and swim team.

Although this was just a mock exercise, students were quiet, realization and shock settled in as they witnessed an Intermountain Life Flight helicopter taking away Watson to the nearby hospital after firefighters used the jaws of life to extract him from the smashed four-door silver sedan. 

Paramedics and ambulances tended to others who suffered injuries; including taking over for a student who was performing chest compressions on her friend who had been thrown through the windshield of the car since she didn’t wear a seatbelt. She was pronounced dead on the scene and a white sheet was placed over her body on the pavement. 

Another student was arrested for distracted driving.

“It’s really eye-opening how realistic it can be and how just one thing can cause such a possibility,” senior Noah Kern said.

That is what firefighter and paramedic Travis Bodtcher hoped would be the message.

“We wanted them to see the mock crash caused by a distracted driver and what results may happen,” he said. “We want students to realize they should not use their cell phone while driving.”

Kern said it is a common experience for teens to use their cells in the car.

“Sometimes it may be texts, but they also are on the phones to change music on playlists,” he said.

IHC outreach and injury prevention coordinator Teresa Brunt wants students to think before using their cell phones while driving.

According to Zero Fatalities, car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens in the United States. 

In 2017, 28 teen drivers were involved in a fatal crash and 38 people were killed in these crashes, the Utah Department of Heath reports. 

Even though a law was passed and put into effect in March 2014 prohibiting drivers in Utah from operating their cell phones without the use of a hands-free device, Brunt said cell phones continue to be used and distract teen drivers.

“Our purpose here is to have teens stop and think about distracted driving,” she said.

It began by students watching a short film, made by their peers in the theater department, about a joy ride scenario ending in a fatal crash. 

Then, students moved outside to the plaza to witness the actual accident, with emergency personnel arriving, sizing up the scene and taking action. The Intermountain Life Flight helicopter landed in the school field near the track and football stadium. 

Afterward, the students filed back to the gymnasium to watch a short video about what happened with the student who was transported to the hospital. Then, a short funeral took place as students spoke, surrounded by their classmates’ caskets with their senior pictures next to them. As they filed out, they saw Spartans Against Distracted Driving posters displayed in the stairwells and hallways. Stickers with the same message were distributed.

“We want to bring awareness to distracted driving and its consequences and for us, it’s real-life practice,” Murray Detective Eric Cardwell said. “We respond to injury crashes daily and it happens a lot with teens. They’re less experienced and tend to be more distracted.”

Bringing in multiple agencies — police, firefighters, paramedics, IMC’s trauma team and the Utah Highway Patrol, and using real students helped add realness of this mock trauma, said theatre teacher Will Saxton.

Students weren’t the only ones touched by this lesson in distracted driving. Kim Watson, the mother of the boy who was transported to the hospital, also played the role of a grieving parent in the emergency room.

“It had a real impact,” she said. “Even though I knew it wasn’t for real, I still got choked up when the doctor said, ‘we did all we could for him,’ and seeing the morgue van pull up — just seeing them all like this. They’ve been friends since junior high and so it was really hard.”

During the simulation, Watson followed her son to the helicopter.

“There’s an impact reaching out farther than students sometimes realize,” she said, adding that her husband won’t even talk about the experience. “I’m glad they did this, so teens can become more conscious of their actions and the outcomes that could happen.”

While Watson watched her son’s funeral, she occasionally wiped a tear and was comforted by Traci Short. 

Short is the mother of Dylan, who directed the student actors, and he, himself, suffered mock head injuries from the accident. However, after playing the role, it led to real-time hyperventilation, which was treated on the scene.

“This was a good culminating experience of his high school theater, putting in a storyline, getting everyone involved in the school and with emergency personnel, directing, making sure everything flowed, and sharing this powerful message,” Short said. “I couldn’t be more proud of these students.”

Her son said it was an issue that needed to be addressed and learned from: “We want to make it clear that distracting driving impacts everyone and cell phones can wait.”