A deadly lesson for Kent drivers; Gift of Life brings awareness to drinking and driving

The students were actors, the scene a mock two-car traffic collision, the result of a street race gone terribly bad.

Student actors perform their roles as survivors and victims of a tragic mock crash at Kentridge High School.

The students were actors, the scene a mock two-car traffic collision, the result of a street race gone terribly bad.

The victims? Two deceased teens, a passenger of one car, the driver of another. The witnesses? Friends tossed into a traumatic event.

The cause? An 18-year-old boy driving impaired, someone who had been drinking at a post-graduation party.

It was a surreal simulation, a true-to-life reenactment tragically played out in an empty parking lot in front of a large teen audience at Kentridge High School last Friday.

“It’s kinda scary. It’s scary for anybody, but these are my classmates,” said senior MacKenzie Carria. “It’s a real-life situation.”

The program, the Gift of Life, is an annual presentation at local high schools designed to increase teenage awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving.

The Kent Fire Department RFA has presented the Gift of Life for more than 20 years, bringing it to high schools each spring to coincide with proms and graduations. It also falls during what is known as the 100 Deadliest Days – a period between the Memorial and Labor Day weekends – when more teens die from vehicle crashes than at any other time of the year.

A person is killed in a drunken-driving car crash every 30 minutes in the U.S., Pat Ellis, chaplain for the Kent Police and Fire departments, told the crowd assembled on a grassy knoll.

And car accidents, Ellis told the crowd, is the No. 1 cause of death for teens today.

“Our message is very simple today,” Ellis told the crowd. “Before you make a choice to drive impaired by alcohol or drugs, before you decide to get into a vehicle (with someone) who has been drinking or drugging, or even sitting in a vehicle without wearing your seatbelt, think of the consequences of those actions.”

Impairment, speed and distraction are the major contributors to teen driver involved traffic fatalities, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. During the summer months from 2009 to 2014 in Washington: of the fatal crashes where 63 teenagers died:

• 42 fatalities involved impairment, 40 involved speeding and 17 involved distracted driving. Most fatalities had multiple contributing factors that caused the collisions.

• The teen drivers themselves were most often the drivers who committed the critical errors leading to the fatal crash. They were: 87 percent of all impaired drivers, 94 percent of all speeding drivers, 87 percent of all distracted drivers.

The mock scene at Kentridge was graphic, emotional and real-like, with the Kent Police Department, King County Medic One, and Tri-med Ambulance participating.

Firefighters performed an extrication of a victim and treatment of the injured. Kent Police conducted a field sobriety test and arrested the drunken driver.

A school assembly, with guest speakers discussing drinking and driving and the consequences of making poor decisions, followed the crash simulation.

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