On a still, quiet, sunny Thursday morning in Mancos, a crowd of emergency response officials converged on the high school campus.
Colorado state troopers, along with the Mancos fire and marshal’s department, Southwest Health EMS responders and Flight For Life crews staged a mock crash on Beech St.
With the high school’s prom coming this weekend, school officials wanted to stage the crash to raise students’ awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.
The team went all-out with the presentation as the student body watched. A Jeep with several students inside collided with a white sedan, flipping the sedan upside-down. One student in the sedan was killed, while firefighters pried another out of the car with the jaws of life. Two men from Ertel Funeral Home in Cortez pulled a hearse up to the crash site and hauled the body away.
After the staged crash, students filed into the Performing Arts Center, where State Patrol troopers notified the deceased student’s mother and sister. A mock memorial service was held for the student.
CSP Sgt. James Saunders said prom season is unfortunately the busy season for state patrollers. They respond to crashes like this “all the time,” where the driver was distracted or texting, he said.
Saunders told students about the ripple effect that an event like this would have not only on the family members, friends and classmates of the victim, but also on those of the defendant. He asked students not to let a crash like this happen, and to make a promise that they would not drive while distracted or tired.
“We want you to remember the feeling of watching this,” he said.
High School Principal Adam Priestley told students that one decision could change everything. He said he had experienced a severe crash involving one of his friends when he was in high school.
Mancos High School doesn’t offer driver’s education, so Priestley said he wanted to keep this in students minds so it doesn’t happen.
“I care for every one of you,” he told students. “This would be the worst thing to happen for me as a principal. I want to see your smiling faces come through the door every day.”
Sophomore Cameron Fury said the presentation was effective. He said he would tell someone to stop if they were driving distracted.
“It opens your eyes to see what could happen,” he said.
Sophomore Ashley Cole played the part of the deceased crash victim. She said it was different and strange, but she was glad the school put on the presentation.
“I hope people realize what they’re doing,” she said. “We want this to be in peoples’ hearts.”
Eighth-grader Breccen Morelli said since Mancos is a small town and people know each other, a crash like the one staged Thursday would effect the town in a big way.
Sophomore Kalem Hargraves also said the presentation was meaningful.
“It was deep and personal,” he said. “Nobody wants to lose a loved one.” Following the ceremony, Saunders said the presentation was one of the best mock crashes he’s put on with the state patrol.
All the agencies and responders involved collaborated well, and the timing was perfect, he said. Kids seemed to be affected by the event, he added.
“Any time there’s silence with kids there’s something going on,” Saunders said. “There were lots of somber faces, and some kids were in tears. It was well worth the effort.”