York students, first responders stage ‘really scary’ DUI crash

Seeing is believing.

That’s the idea behind a graphic reenactment of a drunk driving crash staged by several York high schoolers and local emergency responders Thursday.

Cooperative Way in York was shut down for several hours to stage the reenactment, which was filmed by broadcast journalism students at York Comprehensive High School and acted out by students in the school’s theater program. The students will produce a video. It will be shown to the entire school ahead of prom to encourage smart choices when it comes to avoiding impaired driving.

“You can preach all day long to the kids about what you shouldn’t do,” said Cpl. Pierre King, school resource officer at York Comprehensive. “But when they actually see it live ... this is a big part that sends to the brain, ‘Hey, wait a minute. I need to think about my choices before I get into this vehicle.’”

Organizers pulled all the stops to make the crash look convincing, with the York police and fire departments, Piedmont EMS and Queens Garage all lending a hand.

Jessica Williams, a drama teacher at York Comprehensive, crafted the script for the video, which depicts four York students drinking alcohol before and on the way to the prom. The driver wrecks, and each of the students meets a different, tragic fate.

“They really want to do something different with Prom Promise this year and make it impactful – put faces on the screen that our kids actually know and show the teens in our school that this could happen to you,” she said. To heighten the impact, the students use their real names in the video.

“We follow their stories of watching what happens to their dates and seeing the aftermath of what happens to Keri Ann as she passes and Marshall as he gets loaded onto a helicopter not knowing what his future will be,” Williams said. “We see Zane (Nettles) and Esmeralda (Lemus) arrested for their participation in the event, and instead of being able to mourn the deaths, they have to now think, ‘What happens to me next as a consequence of my behavior?’”

A medical helicopter and crew took part in the reenactment. In addition to the several video cameras used, crews will use footage from drones, patrol car dashcams and police body cameras to capture all angles of what happens after an impaired-driving crash. At one point, the mother of one of the students runs on scene hysterically as paramedics load her bloodied son onto a stretcher.

“It’s really scary, and I think it’ll affect everybody,” said Keri Ann Walker, 17, one of the student actors. “Hopefully it’ll affect them, seeing their peers – people they know personally – getting in an incident like this. I feel like it doesn’t really process with them if they don’t know who it is.”

Carol Dawkins teaches English and broadcast journalism at York Comprehensive. Her students are spearheading the filming and production of the video.

The video shown to the high school will be ready in a week or so, she said, and EMS and law enforcement will likely get a longer version to use in their educational campaigns.

York Police Cpl. Trinity Redmond said the department receives funding from a state public safety grant, and that the production of the video fulfills an educational requirement of the grant. With South Carolina at the top of the nation in DUI-related fatalities, he said the message of the video is one that can’t be repeated enough.

“What we’re trying to do is bring awareness to the students of ... the dangers of drinking and driving, texting and driving,” he said, “everything that’s involved and everybody that’s involved.”

Teddy Kulmala: 803-329-4082, @teddy_kulmala