Smoke billowed out from two wrecked cars.
Teens began screaming in agony at the sight of hurt friends, some of them in pain themselves. Sirens soon blared from police vehicles, fire trucks and ambulances as they rushed to the scene. A Bellevue police officer, first on scene, started CPR on a victim of the fatal car accident.
Two would later be pronounced deceased with multiple critical injuries and one DUI arrest.
But the tragedy wasn’t as it seemed.
It was Bellevue High School’s DUI simulation, played out in the staff parking lot with the entire school watching as a the event was narrated.
“We’ve been practicing for a few weeks now and even though I knew everything that was going to come, and knew what we were going to do and how everything was going to go down, I couldn’t help but freak out and just imagine, ‘This is what would really happen,’” Kathryn Roberts, a student actress in the mock DUI, said. “So, even though I knew everything that was going to happen, I was genuinely emotional, genuinely sad and scared even though we were supposed to be acting.”
Student actor Isaiah Ifanse agreed.
“Seeing some of your close friends being put in that situation makes you just…it feels real,” he said.
Local Bellevue high schools have put on DUI simulations to show students the dangers of drinking and driving for quite some time, or at least as long as since Bellevue firefighter Marcus Howle, 42, attended high school at Newport.
“I actually did this when I was a senior in high school,” Howle recalled. “I was the person who was ejected and found dead on the hood.”
Howle said he knew he wanted to be a firefighter before participating in the simulation, but the event certainly helped cement that desire.
Although Howle has had to respond to horrifying scenes such as the one in the DUI simulation, he said he tries to get past the emotions because “the only way to help anybody is to just go to work.”
“It does make you pause, but you have to have the ability to look past it,” he said.
According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, the number of fatalities involving impaired drivers (adult or otherwise) has increased about nine percent from 2013-17 and injuries have risen by three percent for all of Washington state. During this same time period, the population for Washington state also rose about seven percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
General traffic fatalities in Washington state for youth ages 16-25 has increased significantly, however. The commission reports a 36 percent increase for the same five-year cohort with a 13 percent increase in serious injuries.
Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, a national organization dedicated to reducing drunk driving, reports 300,000 alcohol-related incidents every day with 10,500 deaths a year.
“You want to tell kids not to drink, but the reality is they’re gonna,” Howle said. “I would tell them if that’s the choice you’re going to make, think about the consequences of your actions. You’re not invincible.”
ASB student Jacqueline Niles and actress in the DUI simulation said she thinks having the mock car accident at high schools is important because she doesn’t think people “really realize the extent of how gruesome it really is and how it would truly feel to see one of your best friends dead on the front of a car.”
“I think having the whole school witness it with realistic cars and everything, it kind of makes an emotional attachment,” she said. “I think people can connect, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t do this because I remembered this. This is what can happen.’”
For more information, statistics and prevention measures on drunk or drugged driving, visit www.madd.org.