BONNERS FERRY — Lives can change or end in a matter of seconds. The students of Bonners Ferry High School gathered for a graphic simulated accident, showing them the consequences that those few seconds can make when a driver takes their eyes off the road to look at, or use, their cell phone.
The scene was revealed in the Boundary County Middle School parking lot. The blue tarps were lifted off of the two wrecked cars, nose to nose in a simulated head on collision. In the car were BFHS students Heather Tobin, Ashley Guttin, Seth Bateman, Owen Vandecoevering, Christopher Durette, and Grace Villelli, who had been made up by Cheryl Jackson to look like accident victims.
Boundary County Chaplain Len Pine narrated the event as it unfolded.
“Heather Tobin and her friends, Ashley Guttin and Seth Bateman, were heading to school today, just like every other school day,” he explained. “All three are seniors; the thought of graduation getting close is filling their thoughts, and all they were talking about were plans for the summer and hopes for the future.”
He continued to explain the accident, a realistic type scenario, including details such as the removal of a seatbelt by one of the passengers, to details of the other car full of high school students, as they headed off to get coffee before school. In the mock scenario, Heather Tobin, the driver of one of the vehicles, receives a text from her boyfriend and reaches for her phone despite efforts made by Seth Bateman to stop her.
“Heather held on to the phone and was in the process of telling Seth to chill when she suddenly crossed over the center lane right in the path of Owen’s car,” Pine told the students. “Owen had no chance to even hit the brakes; and at 35 mph each, the impact of the head-on collision was equivalent to a 70 mph single vehicle crash into a solid wall. All of their lives changed today forever.”
The students watched as the first responders arrived and set to work with the student role players. They watched their fellow students be extricated from the vehicles, get placed on stretchers and taken to ambulances, and one to Life Flight, which flew in for the scenario.
They watched the distracted driver, played by Tobin, be arrested by Idaho State Police Trooper Dusty Kralik. At the end, they watched actor Seth Bateman be removed from the hood of the car, missing an arm, and be placed in a body bag and taken away by the coroner, Mick Mellet.
Pine added depth to the scenario, talking about each role playing student, their families, their dreams of the future — all things that would be changed or seriously affected if the scenario had been real.
“Seth loved playing sports and hanging out with his friends,” Pine said. “He planned to go on a mission for his church and attend BYU.”
Putting real faces at the scene, and creating a believable scenario had an impact on the watching students.
“What was really impressive this time — when I looked around — it appeared that all the students out at the mock crash were paying attention and very respectful. They weren’t laughing and joking,” said Boundary County Sheriff Dave Kramer. “I think they were paying attention to the message and realizing that this is a possibility.”
After the scenario came to a close, the students attended an assembly where Kramer spoke to the students. He had them look at their feet for three seconds, and then four.
“It is a fairly fast period of time,” said Kramer. “The distance a vehicle will travel at 60 miles per hour in four seconds is the length of a football field. A lot can happen in that time.”
“In north Idaho, the only thing between you and an oncoming vehicle, in most cases, is about a four inch painted yellow line,” he said. “So even if you look down to look at a photo, or quickly to read a text, and you drift over — or the other driver drifts over — there is not a big buffer there.”
“Hopefully we got the message across and we will keep some of the young drivers and young adults from getting in an accident,” said Kramer.
Boundary Ambulance Training Captain Kelly Halleman organized the simulation and was joined by many agencies that assisted, including Idaho State Police, Bonners Ferry Police Department, Boundary County Sheriff;s Office, Boundary Ambulance, Bonners Ferry Fire Department, Life Flight, and more. Boundary County Chaplain Corp’s vehicle, Angel 1, played a role for the first time at the simulation, working with students role players and their parents.
The message was clear about distracted driving, and driven home by utilizing multiple agencies, as well as peers of the students watching.