Sobering pre-prom message promotes safety

Mock funeral caps two-day program

Clint Riese
Staff Writer

On the eve of prom, Forest Lake High School students got a sobering look at the devastating consequences that can come from careless decisions.

An impressive array of local public safety agencies and businesses teamed together with a group of students to create ‘Every 15 Minutes,’ a two-day program featuring a mock car crash followed by a mock funeral. The program name comes from the statistic that someone in the United States dies from an alcohol related traffic collision every 15 minutes.

FLHS juniors and seniors take in the mock crash last week. (Photo by Cliff Buchan)

The crash was staged on Thursday and the mock funeral was held Friday morning. The entire junior and senior classes took in both events, which were linked by a video portraying a fatal car crash involving eight prom-going Rangers who had been boozing.

FLHS has held the mock crash for eight years, but organizers added the mock funeral this year after hearing of the Every 15 Minutes program being well received in other communities.

“We wanted to try to do something more,” said FLHS liaison officer Jon Glader. “We wanted to show that what happens is not just the crash itself, because kids sometimes don’t think of the aftermath of the effects.

“We were trying to make a big-picture impact.”

Community rallies support

Preparation began around the first of the year for the group of eight students who volunteered. Glader and fellow organizer Kelli Frericks, a science teacher and S.A.D.D. advisor at the high school, got a laundry list of local agencies on board.

Cody Valley is given a sobriety test as part of the mock car crash. (Photo by Cliff Buchan)

In the video produced by Lakes Area Community Television:

• A helicopter, ambulance and crew from North Memorial Clinic responded at the accident scene

• The Forest Lake Fire Department also responded and exctracted two students from the vehicles

• A passenger was treated at Fairview Lakes Medical Center

• The Forest Lake Police Department arrested the impaired driver and booked him in the Washington County Jail

• The driver appeared before a judge in Washington County Court

• A deceased passenger was taken by hearse to Roberts Family Funeral Home

Dan’s Towing helped stage the vehicles, and a significant number of local businesses contributed props, financial backing and the like.

Glader hopes the mock funeral will become an every-other-year event while the mock car crash will continue to take place annually. The school plans to include sophomores in future years because they are the youngest drivers.

Driving the message home

The mock car crash has traditionally been held in mid-May, but organizers moved it up this spring.

“We really wanted to give them that impact right before prom,” Glader said.

In front of the coffin at the mock funeral, student Rachel Swedin displays her tombstone. She was part of a group of student volunteers that put on the two-day program entitled “Every 15 Minutes.” (Photo by Clint Riese)

Based on reactions during Friday’s mock funeral, the message got through loud and clear. As a way to make the program even more realistic, the cast of the video had spent Friday night isolated from friends and family in a hotel, without cell phones or other means to communicate. The students were not brought back into the public until the mock funeral. The audience was still as two of the students and their family members read “good-bye” letters to each other feet from a flower-laden coffin.

“Never again will I tell you that you look beautiful in your wedding dress, that childbirth is worth the pain,” Robin Kerrigan told her daughter, Erin. “Never again will I say to you ‘Good night, sweet dreams and I love you.’”

The emotion of the moment caught up with senior Tony Peterson as he read his letter to his older brother, John.

Student Erin Kerrigan hugs her father, Pat, after they read ‘Good-bye’ letters during the mock funeral. (Photo by Clint Riese)

“I volunteered because I wanted to tell my brother [how I felt] because I haven’t really been able to,” Peterson said afterward. “It got a little more emotional than I thought it was going to.

“I didn’t want to cry in front of everyone but it just came out. It was just way too much. It was straight from the heart.”

Guest speaker Amanda Laugerman, a North Memorial EMT, hammered the point home with a real-life story of how a 1999 car wreck involving alcohol claimed the life of a friend and nearly took hers, too.

FLHS principal closed the program with a challenge to the students. He said he had expected them to be respectful and emotional during the event, but the real test would come over the weekend.

“We deem prom to be a success at about noon on Sunday,” he said, referring to everyone making it home safely.

Peterson feels his classmates learned important lessons from the program and expects prom weekend to be safer.

“Definitely, it’s going to stop them from driving [drunk],” he said. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily going to stop them from drinking and stuff like that, but a lot of people are going to think twice about it…If someone tries to, you’re going to have a group behind you saying ‘No’, and hopefully they decide against it.”