PATTON - Awkward laughter after first seeing their classmates participate in a mock drunken-driving crash fell to complete silence as Cambria Heights High School students watched firefighters cut the roof off of a white car and remove one of their classmates - who was "killed" in the simulation - and place him in a body bag.
The dangers of drinking and driving and the reality of what happens in a crash are messages school officials and emergency response personnel hope will stay with students as prom season approaches.
"Notice how no one is over there helping him," Patton Volunteer Fire Company Chief Pat Wood said, gesturing to the driver of the white car who was "killed" in the crash.
Mirror photo by Patrick?Waksmunski
Patton Volunteer Fire Company firefighters and EMS personnel from Patton, Carrolltown and Hastings wheel “accident victim” Emmi Fisher, 18, a senior at Cambria Heights High School, to an ambulance during a mock accident at the middle school Thursday. Later in the day, a second “accident” was staged for high school students.
Another two students were "injured," and the driver of the minivan was arrested for suspected driving under the influence.
The simulation was all-too-real for the participating students, said Shaina Sclesky, 16.
"I never, ever want to call 911 again," Sclesky said.
Sclesky played the role of a witness who contacted emergency services after the crash.
The time delay between when 911 is called and first responders arrive can be agonizingly long, officials said.
"The five minutes from the crash to when the fire department gets there is the longest five minutes of your life," PennDOT District 9 spokeswoman Pam Kane said. "We want this simulation to stick in [students'] minds the next time they get behind the wheel."
Emmi Fisher, a Cambria Heights senior, said she had to remind herself the simulation was not real.
"It was impactful," Fisher said. "I was legitimately scared."
After arriving on scene, firefighters peeled back the vehicle's windshield and cut off the roof of the vehicle to remove the injured passenger.
Students watched as their classmates were loaded into ambulances and whisked away from the scene.
Chief Deputy Coroner Jeffrey Lees photographed a motionless Zack Smego, a 17-year-old senior playing the role of a crash victim, before Smego was removed from the car and placed inside a body bag.
Alcohol, speed, drug use and cellphones are huge factors in the majority of all Cambria County vehicle crashes, Lees said.
Notifying the family of an individual's passing is "one of the hardest things to do," Lees said.
"The loss of a loved one is very, very traumatic," Lees said.
Patton Borough police, Patton Volunteer Fire Company firefighters, and Carrolltown, Hastings and Patton ambulance services participated in the mock drill at the high school.
Patton Borough Police Chief Vince Leppert and Wood agreed the simulation was beneficial to the students, many of whom will be attending their senior prom in the coming weeks.
The students' involvement in the scenario made the simulation more realistic, Wood said.
And onlookers could witness the sounds, smells and images of a fatal DUI crash, Leppert said.
Debbie Yablinsky, a Cambria Heights family and consumer sciences teacher, said she hoped students would chose to not drink and drive after witnessing the potential devastation a DUI crash could cause.
"I do think it impacted them," she said.
Kane said students had only one decision to make when it comes to parties, alcohol and getting behind the wheel: to not drink and drive.