“Unless you’re actually in an accident or you’re a first responder, you really don’t get to see what goes on with a car accident, so this was a controlled environment where we can could show the students exactly what goes on – the tools and the time required and the injuries that may be sustained,” said Cst. Ambie Verbruggen, community policing/crime prevention officer for the Dawson Creek RCMP detachment.
She said the scenario is a kick-off to the Prevent Alcohol and Risk Related Trauma in Youth (PARTY) program, which continues throughout the school year and aims to teach Grade 10 students about the consequences of risky behaviour – not just impaired driving, but also participating in activities such as extreme sports without the proper safety gear.
In the scenario, a four-door car – generously donated by Able Towing – collided with a power pole. The front-seat passenger, played by Grade 10 student Danika McPherson, was ejected from the vehicle and hit her head on a rock, and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Verbruggen said one of the aims of the scenario was to emphasize the importance of having working seatbelts and other safety features in vehicles.
“A lot of students who are just getting their licences may not have a new vehicle, so we really emphasize the need to have all of these parts inspected,” she said.
A back seat passenger, played by Grade 12 student Thane Smith, was trapped in the vehicle until firefighters were able to free him from the vehicle.
Gordon Smith, chief of the Dawson Creek Fire Department, said firefighters would first assess if a scene is safe for first responders to proceed before focussing on the health and safety of those involved in a crash.
“The first thing we do is scene stability – we want to make sure the scene is safe for our first responders to get in there. Once we’ve stabalized the car and made sure there is no fire or anything like that, we can then access a patient by taking a door or window off,” he said.
Verbruggen said preservation of life is also first and foremost for police officers, but since firefighters and paramedics are often on scene to take over that role, officers will focus on collecting information from those at the scene.
After an investigation, police determined the driver of the vehicle, played by Grade 12 student Morgan Ireland, had been intoxicated while driving, and she was arrested and charged with impaired driving causing death by Cst. Janice Clark. Clark said police would determine if charges are warranted by assessing symptoms of intoxication such as the odour of liquor on their breath, slurred speech or uncoordinated movement.
Verbruggen said some of what the students learned this afternoon will be reinforced during visits to the Dawson Creek and District Hospital where medical practitioners will talk to them about the consequences of sustaining certain types of injuries.
Smith said while the scenario was obviously fake, and some students were not as impressed with the scenario as others, it is important to stress to them that the real consequences of drinking and driving are not to be taken lightly.
“A lot of the kids think this fun or cool when they watch it, but we try to impress on them that this is not neat or cool,” he said. “We people do these kinds of things, it is a bad decision made worse, and we have to try to show that impact to the children. Even if one or two kids get the message, I think that makes the difference.”
Organizers did invite a local member of Northern Health’s mental health unit to debrief the students in case any of them were experiencing any kind of trauma due to witnessing the scenario.