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Drinking, driving scenario staged in Coventry

5/8/2014 - South Side Leader
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By Maria Lindsay

Coventry High School juniors and seniors got a dramatic look at what happens when you drink and drive just days before prom in a mock crash staged at the high school May 5-6. The scene is pictured above.
Summit County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Wesley Dobbins is shown above looking over the body of student actor Eric Owens, who “died” in the accident. His body is shown below being transported away by LifeCare Medical Services Inc. personnel.
Shown above, from left, are Coventry High School students Katie Eckberg, Tatiana Higginson and Destinie Westover, all 18; and Chloe Baird, 17, reacting to the mock crash presentation.
The drunk driver that caused the crash, played by Jesse Oravecz, is shown above being led away in handcuffs by deputies.
Photos: Lew Stamp
COVENTRY — Action spoke louder than words at a mock crash staged for juniors and seniors at Coventry High School May 5-6.

The crash scene, presented about five days before the school’s prom, tomorrow, May 10, was designed to show students what could happen if you drink and drive.

Summit County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Kelly Cottle, a D.A.R.E. officer who organized the event, said the mock crash is based on a national program called “Every 15 Minutes.”

“We always try to do something around prom time to address alcohol awareness,” she said. “It’s one thing to talk about it. When students watch the crash unfold, hear the cracking and pop of the car when EMS personnel cut into it, smell the burning car and hear the sirens, it hits them. They get to see the ‘real thing’ with their friends involved, and how it affects the lives involved.”

Janice Nadeau, media specialist at Coventry High School, who helped with the presentation, explained the “real thing” was presented to students with assistance from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, Coventry Fire Department, LifeCare Medical Services Inc., Akron Children’s Hospital Air Bear Life Flight, Summit County Juvenile Court Judge Linda Tucci Teodosio, Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Joseph Fantozzi and attorney Michael Wartko.

“We are trying to teach the kids to make responsible decisions,” said Nadeau. “One decision can change your life. We want kids to think beyond the moment and realize that their actions have consequences.”

Nadeau explained the first day of Cottle’s “real thing” involved a car crash between two cars donated by a towing company. The cars are covered with tarps when students first come upon the scene, which is staged in the school parking lot, and they are uncovered after a flash bomb simulates the crash. Police and EMS arrive on site with sirens on and the Life Flight helicopter hovers in the air over the scene.

Nadeau described the presentation: One vehicle in the accident was driven by a drunk driver with two passengers, played by Coventry High School students Jesse Oravecz and Amber Thacker and Casey Prater, respectively. The other car was driven by Eric Owens and his real-life girlfriend Hailey Harris, who had not been drinking. Owens and Harris are the school’s homecoming king and queen and the class president and vice president, respectively.

The five student “actors” were solicited for their participation in the mock crash and went through several training sessions to help stage the scene, without a word to their fellow students, according to Nadeau.

Nadeau said as the tarp is unveiled in the presentation, students see that Owens has gone through the windshield and is dead, and his girlfriend is severely injured inside the car. The deputy then waves off the helicopter, indicating there is no need for transport as Owens is dead. An ambulance then takes Harris to Children’s Hospital, along with two Coventry High Schools students in the ambulance to videotape the subsequent measures taken by EMS and in the Emergency Department.

Nadeau said Oravecz, the drunk driver, then goes through a field sobriety test, is arrested and transported to the Juvenile Detention Center on Dan Street. Two other students follows in a deputy’s cruiser to videotape his transport, booking, fingerprinting and changing into a jail uniform.

The second day of the presentation involved a court trial with Teodosio, Fantozzi and Wartko, as well as a victim impact statement made by Owens’ mother, Michelle Owens, according to Nadeau. Taped scenes from the trip to the Emergency Department and the Juvenile Detention Center also were shown.

The trial ended with Oravecz’s conviction. In addition, Richard Wheeland, a real-life convicted drunk driver who killed someone and served time in jail, spoke to the students.

“There were so many people involved in this presentation to make this as real as possible,” said Nadeau. “The students saw one innocent person die and another suffer serious injuries. They also saw what happened to the person who caused this.”

Nadeau said the assembly on the second day opened with a tape of Owens reading the poem, “Death of an Innocent,” by an unknown author. The poem depicts a student talking to her mom about going to a party and drinking soda instead, as her mother asked, and she remembers feeling proud of that decision. She describes the accident and lying in a pool of blood, and she asks why she is the one dying when she was the one who chose not to drink.

Nadeau said the student actors “had tears and got choked up” while pretaping those parts for the presentation.

Cottle added the actual presentation has a similar effect on other students.

“It’s dramatic, but we hope that helps the message to not drink and drive sink in,” she said.

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