Bellevue high schoolers get crash course on impact of DUI crashes

The sirens and flashing police lights were very real. Luckily for the students witnessing the aftermath of a drunk driving collision, the scene unfolding was a DUI reenactment. The Bellevue Fire Department has presented the drill over the past two years to nearly every senior attending a high school in Bellevue.

Sammamish High School student actors react to a fatal automotive collision scene during a DUI reenactment coordinated by the Bellevue Fire Department on Thursday

The sirens and flashing police lights were very real. Luckily for the students witnessing the aftermath of a drunk driving collision, the scene unfolding was a DUI reenactment.

The Bellevue Fire Department has presented the drill over the past two years to nearly every senior attending a high school in Bellevue.

The smashed cars and cries for help from the student actors may have been staged, but the message was very real. Drinking and driving has consequences, something the fire department hopes resonated with the students at Sammamish High School. With prom and graduation parties in full swing, the fire department hoped the images of their friends and classmates acting out a tragic car crash would be a sobering experience.

A group of student actors played the roles of DUI victims and the drunk driver, arriving early for makeup and rehearsal. The reenactment was narrated by Lt. Eric Keenan, the Bellevue Fire Community Liaison Officer. Keenan described each scene as it unraveled, from the moments after impact to the student actors leaving on stretchers.

For some of those watching, it really hits home for them, Keenan explained.

“Having the students act it out, it becomes very real. When the students see their friends hurt and injured, they get a visual of what could really happen if they make poor choices,” he said.

While the junior and senior class stood by and watched the performance unfold, multiple police cars, fire trucks and ambulances arrived on the scene. Sammamish High School senior Adriel Long played the part of the drunk driver, staying true to her character as she performed a field sobriety test, administered by one of the officers.

“I think it’s really important for kids to know what can happen if you decide to drink and drive or get into a car with someone who has been drinking,” Long explained. “If I can help share that message in any way then I will.”

The performance was followed by an assembly featuring three guest speakers: Bellevue Police Lt. Tim Thibert, who is in charge of accident investigation; attorney Tom Bierlein; and Mike Buckingham, a former state trooper and DUI victim. The students listened to the three speakers, each addressing the topic of drunk driving from a different perspective.

The students sat attentively while Thibert described the feeling he gets every time the phone rings at one in the morning.

“I know that means there has been an accident,” Thibert said. “When I arrive on the scene, and it’s determined that the driver of one of the vehicles was impaired, it goes from being a collision, to a crime screen, to a homicide investigation.”

Next to speak was Bierlein, who described courtroom accounts depicting the aftermath of the lives destroyed because of drinking and driving – not just the victims, but the families as well.

“I wish before the fact that you would think about it. I wish before the fact that you would talk about it. I wish before the fact that you would each be responsible for yourselves and your friends. To make the smart choice, the sober choice to avoid this.”

The assembly ended with Buckingham’s first-hand account of the night he became a victim of someone else’s decision to drink and drive.

“If you make the right choice, wonderful, you won’t have any regrets,” Buckingham said. “But if you share what you’ve learned with your friends, you may just save some lives.”

Lindsay Larin can be reached at llarin@reporternewspapers.com or 425-453-4602.


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