Shattered Dreams

A group of high school students witnessed a re-enactment of a drunk driving accident this morning. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, the simulation was realistic down to the smallest details and was designed to show teens the consequences of driving under the influence.

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With dozens of high school students looking on, police and fire officials cut open a wrecked car and dragged the injured passengers out. The driver of the car was killed on impact and the body lay under a sheet on the road, blood trailing across the cement. A few feet away, officers administered field sobriety tests on a teenaged drunk driver, then handcuffed him and drove him off to jail. The whole situation was performed by student actors, but HPD Officer Paul Lasalle says the scene was compelling.

"Just seeing this firsthand, seeing the hustle and bustle of these firefighters and paramedics climbing in these broken windows of these cars and covering these kids up with sheets and busting the rest of the glass out and cutting the roofs off and being arrested and all that just right in front of their face really brings it home to them. Because young people tend to think you're invincible and that you're guaranteed your future and seeing this today will hopefully help them understand that you're not guaranteed anything, especially if you drink and drive."

The demonstration is going on at Sam Houston High School throughout the day. It's a program spearheaded by Ben Taub General Hospital to bring the students through the experience of drunk driving. Robin Garza is the trauma coordinator at Ben Taub and says the national statistics show someone dies every 15 minutes as a result of drunk driving.

"So every 15 minutes throughout the rest of the day we'll be pulling a child out of class and they will be the living dead, and we'll paint them up, and they'll remain in school the rest of the day but they won't be allowed to speak to anyone and they'll be the living dead. And so by the end of the day we'll have a group of 20 kids and those 20 kids will come to Ben Taub tonight and spend the night in our facility."

Those students will see accidents coming in to Ben Taub and witness cases in the emergency room. The teen who played the drunk driver is going to jail today and will have to report before a judge for sentencing. Other students will participate in a funeral procession and ride in a hearse. Tomorrow morning the school will hold an assembly and all the students who participated will share their experiences from the day. Lasalle says the timing of this demonstration is especially important because prom is right around the corner and the number of students drinking and driving is much higher.

"We're hoping that in the back of their mind this stores like a video tape and before they think about getting in the car with somebody that's been drinking or drinking and getting in a car themselves and driving, they will have a little flashback and think about what the possibilities really are because they have seen it firsthand as opposed to hearing stories. And you know, if we save just one or two lives in this whole group, I mean we -- it's more than worth the effort that was put into this."

Harris County is number one in the country when it comes to alcohol-related accidents. There are more per capita than anywhere else in the country and the percentage of fatalities is also the highest and Lasalle says the national average is going down, but the numbers in Harris County are still rising. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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