The East Valley High School juniors and seniors were chatting and laughing – until they saw the bodies of their friends.
The crowd grew quiet when a giant tarp was pulled back to reveal two smashed cars filled with fellow students and blood soaking the ground.
Student Elisha Allred, wearing a green prom dress, lay draped across the hoods of both cars. She was playing the fatality in a mock crash staged at the school Thursday to make students think twice about drinking as prom and graduation approach.
Other students cried and screamed as they played their roles in the chaotic scene. Sierra Nalder, playing the role of the drunken driver who caused the crash, wandered around as if in a daze before she was led off in handcuffs. Allred was covered with yellow tarps while firefighters from the Spokane Valley Fire Department cut apart the car containing her fellow students, then she was placed in a body bag and rolled toward a hearse provided by Hennessey Smith Funeral Home.
The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, the Washington State Patrol and MedStar also participated in the mock crash organized by the school’s Washington Drug Free Youth chapter.
Hannah Herndon, playing the role of Allred’s best friend, found herself powerfully affected by the drama after it was over. “There’s no way to really prepare,” she said, her voice shaking. “This could happen. These are my friends.”
Benjamin Baker said being inside the car while firefighters cut it apart wasn’t any fun. “Once you’re in it it’s pretty terrifying,” he said.
Allred could only listen to what was going on. “It was kind of eerie,” she said. “I could feel everything they were doing in both the cars.”
The mock crash was also a difficult experience for Allred’s mother, Sharon, who was asked to deliver her eulogy during a memorial service in the school gym. She cried as she described her daughter and what she meant to the family. “She’s been crying for the last week,” Allred said.
Darren Mattozzi spoke to the students about the death of his brother Damon in a drunken driving accident several years ago. He talked about hearing his brother’s name on the police scanner, going out with his mother to look for his brother and finding his brother’s mangled truck alongside the road. The truck still sits on mile marker 19 on state Highway 291 in Stevens County as a memorial. His brother had severe head injuries and the family had to make the decision to take his brother off of life support. “He literally broke every bone in his face,” Mattozzi said.
He urged the students to make good decisions because the decisions they do make can have a far reach. His brother’s death tore his previously tight knit family apart, Mattozzi said. “You don’t get over death, you just learn to live with it, you learn to cope with it,” he said. “Life is beautiful. Don’t waste it on stupid decisions.”
Getting into a car is the most dangerous thing teenagers do on a regular basis, said assistant principal Joe Kostecka. “They don’t think about it that way,” he said.
Kostecka, who helped organize the mock crash, said the purpose of the event wasn’t to preach an anti-alcohol message but to get students to think about their decisions. “Mr. K is tired of going to student funerals,” he said, his voice breaking.