MARSHALL - Getting loaded into a hearse after being pronounced "dead" at the scene of a mock crash Thursday is something Marshall High School junior Adam Kovash will never forget.
"It was kind of chilling," Kovash said.
The hope, Kovash said, is that the 800-plus ninth- through 12th-grade students from MHS and Marshall East Campus Learning Alternative (MECLA) who were in the stands at the Lyon County Fairgrounds will not forget, either.
Photos by Jenny Kirk
Having been 15 years since the last mock crash in Marshall was conducted, local students and volunteers pulled out all the stops to send a message of caution to drivers on Thursday morning at the Lyon County Fairgrounds.
After utilizing the Jaws of Life, members of the Marshall Fire Department carefully lifted the top of a Chrysler off to get at an injured student during the mock crash.
"I thought it went well," Kovash said. "I've seen tweets and the students all thought it was pretty cool. I hope they got something out of it."
According to Doug Goodmund, assistant director at Marshall Community Services, and Bruce Lamprecht, business director for the Marshall School District, the last mock crash took place in Marshall in 1997.
"It was time," Lamprecht said.
Lamprecht is also part of the Marshall Traffic Safety Coalition, which was founded in 2006 in response to an usually-high number of teen driver fatalities the previous year.
"Our focus is on changing driving habits, especially distracted driving," Lamprecht said. "We also encourage making good choices about alcohol, either not drinking or at least, not drinking and driving."
Lamprecht pointed out the group's mission is especially geared toward young people in the 16-25 age group, which includes students at Southwest Minnesota State University.
"Kids in this age group think they'll live forever," he said.
Unfortunately, according to mock crash narrator Jackie Sticha of the Minnesota State Patrol, teenagers are most at-risk for fatal traffic accidents.
"For people your age, car crashes are your No. 1 cause of death," Sticha said.
"We all know this is a big problem in our country and throughout the world," MHS senior Bo Erickson said. "We're young drivers and sometimes we make stupid decisions. So we really need to try to learn something from this."
Along with Kovash, MHS seniors Laura Mitlyng, Aletta Arndt, Jeff Paskach and Damon Brown, who are all in Dan Smith's acting class at MHS, had significant roles during the mock crash.
"The homecoming dance is over," Erickson said, laying out the scenario. "Laura and Aletta have left the high school headed for Cassaundra Krogen's house in Green Valley to watch movies before marching band on Saturday. Laura is texting Cassaundra to let her know that they'll be there in a few minutes."
Despite Arndt's pleas to put the cell phone down, Mitlyng continued and swerved into the oncoming lane for a moment. Brown, Paskach and Kovash were driving back to Marshall from Paskach's house in Cottonwood, where Paskach and Brown have been drinking.
"Before they left, Adam tried to get the keys from Damon because he was concerned that Damon had had too much to drink," Erickson said. "Damon told him not to worry about it. While Damon sped down the highway, Adam was angry, but didn't think he could do anything to stop it. The music was loud when Damon swerved into the oncoming lane just for a moment."
As the blue tarps were pulled off of the two cars, the deafening sound simulating two vehicles colliding resonated throughout the stands at the fairgrounds. And for a moment, all was silent.
Then, chaos broke out.
"What did you do?" Mitlyng, the driver of the Cadillac, said to Brown, the driver of the Chrysler.
Amid the bickering and confusion, moaning from injured passengers inside both vehicles could be heard, though no sounds or movement came from Kovash, who appeared to have been ejected from the passenger side of the Chrysler, coming to rest on the hood of the car. No one, Sticha said, was wearing a seat belt.
"It was difficult (to lay completely still) because I was freezing cold out there," Kovash said afterward.
Soon after the crash, Mitlyng could be heard making a pretend 911 call, alerting medical and law enforcement agencies to the situation. While the mock crash was a simulated exercise, Sticha said, the actions taken by the countless volunteers were not so different from their everyday activities.
"This is what they do every day," she said.
While fire and rescue crews took the top of the Chrysler off with the Jaws of Life to get at Paskach, who was trapped in the back seat, an officer gave Brown a field sobriety test to assess his level of impairment.
"The more impaired a person is, the less they can do, like take instructions, physically move or even remember the instructions," Sticha said. "Driving impaired reduces your reaction time significantly."
As the crew worked to get Paskach into the awaiting helicopter, other emergency personnel assisted in getting Arndt out of the back seat of the Cadillac.
"She's hit her head and is in and out of consciousness," Sticha said. "They're using the Jaws of Life to get her out of that car and to help. In the olden days, we'd stabilize the victim and spend a lot of time on the scene. That is not how we do it now. They load and go. They get them to the surgeons and nurses who understand this kind of force on tissue, this kind of trauma."
After Mitlyng is questioned and treated on-site, Brown was arrested and put into a squad car and the injured students are en route to medical facilities, state troopers start measuring and taking photos of the scene. It's likely that Mitlyng will face charges because she was texting and driving. Simultaneously, emergency personnel prepare to load Kovash into a hearse. While it was difficult to lay completely still on the hood of the car, on the tarp and then eventually, inside the body bag, Kovash said, hearing the door of the hearse close took a lot of courage.
"I just kind of went blank in my mind, basically," he said.
MHS junior Anja Baumgarn said she thought the mock crash was a good example of what could happen.
"It makes you think about how serious texting while driving can be and drinking underage and driving is," she said. "It's scary. It makes you think about the consequences your actions can have."