Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

March 25, 2010

Drunk-driving reality hits Ronan High School students head-on

By Lailani Upham

Death looks on as Ronan High School sophomore Marley Tanner lays “dead” on the pavement while senior Abby Luke hangs lifeless out a window after a mock head-on collision involving drunk drivers on Thursday afternoon at the Ronan High School parking lot. (Lailani Upham photo)
Death looks on as Ronan High School sophomore Marley Tanner lays “dead” on the pavement while senior Abby Luke hangs lifeless out a window after a mock head-on collision involving drunk drivers on Thursday afternoon at the Ronan High School parking lot. (Lailani Upham photo)

RONAN — Every 15 minutes somebody is killed by a drunk driver, according to Lake County Sheriff Deputy Jay Gillhouse.

Ronan High School demonstrated the disturbing fact last Thursday with a mock accident scene and memorial service for 19 “dead” students. The scene of the head-on collision was directly in the middle of the high school parking lot that caught the attention of drivers passing by to take a moment to gander at the commotion.

The accident scene is what is called a Ghost-out organized by Deputy Gillhouse. The reenactment happens every four years at Ronan High School, according to Gillhouse.

Students and staff observe emergency workers remove a car roof then carefully extract students “injured” bodies from a mock head on collision during the Ronan High School Ghost Out. (Lailani Upham photo)
Students and staff observe emergency workers remove a car roof then carefully extract students “injured” bodies from a mock head on collision during the Ronan High School Ghost Out. (Lailani Upham photo)

The 19 students who played the role of “deceased” were in their respected classes when received a tap on the shoulder to turn and face the Grim Reaper, the Angel of Death.

After a student was tapped they were pulled from the class where they received a quick “Hollywood” style make-up job of gashes and wounds. The students were then returned to class as a “dead” victim of a drunken-driving accident. They were no longer allowed to speak or interact with their classmates the rest of the day. “It was pretty intense,” said Alice Van Gunten, a Junior at Ronan about the experience playing a victim. “It’s a life-changing experience to not drink and drive,” Van Gunten added.

Senior Shelby Fisher is transported from vehicle to ambulance after sustaining a severe head injury. Shelby “dies” shortly after arriving inside the ambulance. She is escorted out by the Grim Reaper and somberly grazes the scene. (Lailani Upham photo)Senior Shelby Fisher is transported from vehicle to ambulance after sustaining a severe head injury. Shelby “dies” shortly after arriving inside the ambulance. She is escorted out by the Grim Reaper and somberly grazes the scene. (Lailani Upham photo)

Kirk Bartel, a paramedic with Ronan Ambulance, shared with the students how he sees the tragedy of accidents on the scene, and told the students of a close to home incident that happened a few years back involving a relative. He told the students about the night he was called out to a scene to find his dad there first. “It was this time of year,” he said. “I get to the scene, and my dad is there - he asked me, ‘Do you know what kind of car your cousin drives?’” Bartel explains. Bartel says he thinks of the car model and instantly looks over to see it is his cousin’s car, “Sure enough it was his, and I went in to a panic. He’s lifeless, laying face down. I thought it was a dream,” he added.

Bartel told the students he shares his story with them in hopes to make them think about their choices. “We want to teach and show you what can happen if you drink and drive,” he said. “Remember there is somebody that wants to see you the next day,” he pleaded with the students.

The dim lit gymnasium was still and silent, as stories of real-life incidents were shed upon to the student body, by law enforcement officials and emergency responders.

CSKT police officer, Don Bell shared a story of what he believed was the worst accident he witnessed. It involved a drunken driver involving three vehicles.

The victims were a 34-year-old mother and her eight-year-old son, dead on the scene.

“When you put an eight-year-old in a body bag - that’s real,” he said. The drunk driver walked away with no injuries.

Bell urged the students to take the demonstration serious, “Soak this in, because it is real,” he said.

Ronan High School students stand in front of the entire school body and staff during a “memorial” that was held in their honor after being “killed” in accidents involving drunk drivers. (Lailani Upham photo)
Ronan High School students stand in front of the entire school body and staff during a “memorial” that was held in their honor after being “killed” in accidents involving drunk drivers. (Lailani Upham photo)

After the memorial service students followed the law enforcement officials to the parking lot to find a head-on collision of a Chevy Astro van and a saab vehicle loaded with students severely injured. On the pavement, one body had flown through the window - dead. One girl hanging lifeless out a broken van window.

One student said as she watched the commotion of emergency responders and police officials on the scene that it felt realistic and the feeling was “very sad.” Another student responded that she never wanted to drink or drive, while another stated she never wanted to drink after witnessing the Ghost-Out.

Weston Kiehn, a Senior, who was a “drunk driver” in one of the vehicles said that the experience of it all was, “very uncomfortable.” He said he hopes the message from this experience the students witness, is to not drink and drive.

March 20 was prom night for both Ronan and Polson High School. No under age DUI’s were issued from Lake County Sheriff’s department or from CSKT Tribal Police Department.

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