Part of homecoming week at the Hemingford High School included a “Grim Reaper” demonstration to show teens the deadly effects of drinking or texting while driving.
Throughout the day a scary tone would come across the loud speaker at school. The Grim Reaper knocked on a random classroom door, walked silently into the classrooms and removed a student. That student then came back to class wearing a black “grim reaper” shirt and was instructed not to talk as they were dead.
The Hemingford Volunteer Fire Department set up a mock crash in front of the grand stands on the fairgrounds. The mock crash was intended to drive the point home about the consequences of drinking or texting while driving.
Students were lead in from their classrooms to see the gruesome sight as one of the victims, Xavier Robb, laid on the hood of one of the vehicles covered in blood and broken glass. Some of the students were able to walk around the mock scene and some just walked passed. There were some giggles as they saw their classmates covered in fake blood and fake injuries but there was a point where you could really see it sink in. Students gasped, covered their mouths and even looked away.
“If we can get through to at least one student about the dangers of distracted driving then this was a success,” said HHS Principal and HVFD member Daniel Kluver.
The students took their seats in the grandstand as HVFD Chief Shad Bryner made his introduction as to what had happened. Then police dispatcher Taylor Keegan made the mock 911 call to report the accident. Hemingford Police Chief Dusty Bryner was first on the scene followed quickly by several HVFD vehicles.
Mock crash victim Katelyn Varner was first out of the vehicle as she began to scream “WHAT DID YOU DO?!”
Later Varner said, “When it got started I actually felt like I was in the wreck for real. Which was really nerve racking!”
The Grim Reaper (played by Jace Stumpff) walked ominously around the crash site as HVFD crews began assessing the scene; pulling accident victims into ambulances for mock medical attention.
The mock drunk driver, Danea Hanson, was treated for a broken nose by HVFD member Jim Keegan before being led away in handcuffs by Bryner.
The Air Link flight for life helicopter flew from Regional West in Scottsbluff and landed on the middle of the football field.
HVFD first responders used the Jaws of Life to cut victims, Kylie Mendolia and Sarina Radspinner, out of the second car. Both were put on stretchers, one was lifted into an ambulance and the other taken to the helicopter.
The Bates-Gould van pulled up to the scene and loaded the two mock deceased victims, Robb and Rebecca Hanson, onto stretchers and drove away.
“It was hard,” said Robb after. “It was an honor to be a part of something that I hope works and opens eyes for everyone. Being the one that was dead on the hood was really hard. Once they put the sheet over my head, my emotions were everywhere. But as an actor you got to do your job and that was not easy. Then they put us dead bodies (Becca and I) in the funeral home car, that really got my emotions up because I really was dead. Overall it was a great experience to do. I hope it opens eyes and people make good decisions off of this.”
When the victims at the scene had been taken away and “treated”, members of the Air Link flight crew took the opportunity to talk to the students and answer questions.
“I know that they try to make these things as real as possible but it’s not real. However, we see this stuff every day. It’s those little tiny decisions that you guys make on a day to day basis that can really affect you for the rest of your life. It literally just takes one split second for that car to flip, someone to jump out in front of you, swerve to avoid an animal… when do these things just to try to make you think,” said the Air Link Pilot.
Long time Hemingford High School Secretary and HFVD member Lisa Haas worked alongside her fellow rescue workers during the demonstration.
“I know this was just a drill but I’ve been on these scenes and it hurts because normally it’s people that you know,” Haas said. “I knew that X (Xavier Robb) was okay but it still was a punch in the gut. It’s not about me though, it’s about you guys. There are so many people that care about you, think about those people and how your choices might affect them. It might feel good at the time but in the long run your choices affect more than just you. Please be safe, make good decisions and take care of each other. Our environment, our school, and our lives will be a better place for it.”
According to the State of Nebraska 2018 Annual Traffic Crash Facts Report, younger drivers are involved in a disproportionate number of crashes. In 2018, 48.1% of the drivers involved in crashes were age 34 or younger. Drivers in the youngest age bracket, ages 15 to 24, which included 15.6% of all drivers, had the highest percentage involvement of all age groups in all crashes, 27%. In 2018, these drivers were also involved in 20.7% of fatal crashes.
• Each day in the United States, more than 8 people are killed and 1,161 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.
• In Nebraska in 2015, of the 160 traffic crashes involving cell phone distractions 43 were teen drivers and 117 were other drivers.
• Over the last 10 years, on average, Nebraska drivers aged 15-19 have been involved in 43 cellphone distraction crashes per year.
• On average, Nebraska has had more than 3,600 distracted driving crashes per year over the last 10 years.
Nebraska is one of four states with no primary texting law, meaning law enforcement here can’t pull you over for texting while driving. As it stands now, officers need another reason — like headlights out or swerving — and only then can you be ticketed for texting and driving.
Driving requires mental, physical, visual and auditory attention. Doing anything but concentrating on driving puts drivers, passengers and other road users at an increased risk of being involved in a crash.