A fatal drunken driving wreck was to be staged Thursday morning for seniors outside Post Falls High School to illustrate the danger students face on the roads this time of year.
The mock crash was canceled Tuesday as the school reeled from the death of one of its students Monday night in a high-speed crash a few miles outside of town.
Leo C. Neal, 17, a junior at the school, was a passenger in the 2002 Jaguar convertible that rolled and smashed into trees on a farm. The driver, Monte Thomson Jr., of Veradale, also was killed in the crash. Thomson, 17, was a junior at Central Valley High School in Spokane Valley.
The initial investigation shows the boys were speeding west on Hayden Avenue from Idaho Road around 8:45 p.m. The car left the road, crashed through a fence, rolled and smashed through a line of trees, hitting and rupturing a natural gas line before stopping in a mangled heap near a mint hopper, the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office said.
Alcohol was found at the crash site, in the 11500 block of West Hayden Avenue, but investigators do not know yet if it was a factor in the crash. Autopsy and toxicology results won’t be available for several weeks, officials said.
Post Falls and Central Valley high schools brought in crisis response teams with grief counselors Tuesday to help students and staff members.
“We are here to support the kids and even our staff, because some teachers are struggling and having a hard time right now,” Central Valley High Principal Mike Hittle said.
Thomson was in Central Valley’s Running Start program, taking courses at Spokane Community College. He also worked at Quality Canopy Construction in Post Falls, and he took part in junior varsity soccer last school year.
He spent most of the school day at SCC and was at Central Valley for a math class the last period of the day, Hittle said. “He was a good student, of course, being able to take on college courses as well. He was a good kid.”
At Post Falls High, Neal was “extremely focused and motivated” and a “strong leader” in business programs, including DECA, the student club for emerging leaders and entrepreneurs, Principal Chris Sensel said.
The school, Sensel said, has “lost a positive, friendly young man that no matter what person or situation, would welcome you with a smile, story, and his unquestionable assistance.”
“This is a time when we are all supporting each other to work through this tragic event,” he said.
Crash investigators on the scene Monday night were at Coeur d’Alene High School on Tuesday morning to assist in staging a mock fatal crash for that school’s senior class. It was an emotional lesson so soon after the double fatality, said sheriff’s Lt. Joe Jovick, who oversees the department’s accident investigations.
“They were coming off of one that was literally 12 hours before,” he said.
In the simulated crashes, students play victims in a head-on collision. Real first responders descend on the scene, and the parents of the victims arrive and react to the devastating news. In addition to intoxicated driving, the program warns of any sort of distracted or inattentive driving, including text messaging.
The mock crashes, held at high schools throughout the county each spring, are sponsored by the Kootenai County Substance Abuse Council. The group’s executive director, Anita Kronvall, an Idaho State Police chaplain whose daughter was killed by a drugged driver 14 years ago, said she understands why Post Falls High decided to cancel Thursday’s simulation.
“We would have preferred to do it but we have to defer to their wisdom on the situation, and they just don’t feel they can put the kids through anything more at this time,” Kronvall said Tuesday.
Sensel said Neal had a plan and goals in place for his future.
“Leo’s impact could be felt and seen throughout our school,” he said. “Leo was a great storyteller and made us all laugh. Leo was also that classmate who would work with any student, help them and commit to the task at hand.”
Justin Malloy, a 2015 Post Falls High graduate, became friends with Neal in their construction class. Monday’s crash happened within eyesight of Malloy’s house.
“There was never a day that would go by where we weren’t cracking jokes and smiling,” Malloy recalled. “It was almost the ideal friendship as we never had a bad day. I remember his positivity very clearly.”
Teachers at Central Valley read an announcement of Thomson’s death to all classes at the start of the day, Hittle said. Counselors then met with some students in the school library to help them process the news and work through their grief, he said.
Three chaplains from the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office came to the school Tuesday to provide additional support.
School officials at Central Valley also talk with the students there about safe driving habits this time of year.
“With prom and graduation, we’re always reminding the students about being safe,” Hittle said.
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