KNAPPA — Knappa senior Carly Sproul, 18, lay dead on the hood of her friend’s Nissan Maxima in front of the high school’s baseball field, her body thrust through a broken windshield. Mashed into the Nissan was a Buick LeSabre driven by fellow KHS senior Kyle Kelly, 18, his front seat passenger Rea Elliott, 18, slumped over dead next to him.

Kelly had veered into the oncoming lane and slammed into Sproul and her three friends Monday on Old U.S. Highway 30 as they went to rent a movie. Firefighters used the jaws of life to extricate the surviving passengers of both vehicles; paramedics took five injured passengers to the hospital; and Caldwell’s Mortuary loaded up the two fatalities.

Through the links of the chain fence surrounding the KHS baseball field, students took in the scene with a mix of bemusement and concern at the carnage, even if it wasn’t real.

The mock crash Monday was part of Every 15 Minutes, an impaired driving education program. With the help of students, staff and Clatsop County Sheriff’s Deputy Seann Luedke, Knappa senior Maria Wikstrom, 18, spent three months organizing the program for her senior project.

“Prom is on Saturday, first of all, and we know students will be out ... drinking,” said Wikstrom, who found out about the program from Sproul, researched it online and came to the sheriff’s office with the idea.

“We want students to be aware of the danger of getting into a car after drinking. And we want them to know the dangers of texting and driving ... anything that has to do with that distraction when driving.”

The message came through clear. Sproul and Elliott died at the scene; 18-year-old Heidi Thompson, driver of the Nissan, died later at the hospital; and four other passengers from both vehicles suffered injuries. Mother Donna Sproul had to be restrained by deputies after identifying her daughter’s corpse.

Students at KHS?were pulled out of class every 15 minutes throughout Monday by a “grim reaper” and played dead, their faces painted white, grave markers erected outside for them and contact with the outside world cut off from after the crash scene until Tuesday.

Luedke performed a sobriety test on Kelly at the scene and found him to have a .09 blood alcohol level, just over the legal limit for someone of age. Kelly was charged, said Luedke, with two counts of second-degree manslaughter, three counts of third degree of assault, five counts of wreckless endangerment and a DUII. He received more than a decade of jail time, including 75 months for each manslaughter charge.

According to the National Highway Training Safety Administration, nine people died in impaired driving-related crashes between 2007 and 2011.

“According to the statistics, they say someone dies every 15 minutes from a DUII crash,” said Luedke. “Through the years that have been slightly lessened to about every 51 minutes, and I believe that’s because of programs like this ... and then enforcement.”

In the coming month, the video re-enactment will be distributed on DVDs and be placed online. It includes a simulated party scene, crash, ER scene with the injured students and a court scene.

The mock crash was only half the equation, though, as the following day students at KHS were hit head on by the aftermath of such tragedies.

The aftermath

“It seemed like just a few days ago she was prom-dress shopping,” said Kellie Elliott, holding up a senior portrait of her daughter Rea Elliott, who only the day before sat slumped in the front passenger seat of Kelly’s car with a towel firefighters draped over her head to hide the fatal injuries. Kellie Elliott and John Thompson read obituaries for their deceased children, who also wrote letters to their parents from the afterlife.

James Lemire, a 2012 Knappa graduate who had been caught by police drinking and driving while in high school, read the letters. Lemire said he used to go out “looping,” a slang term for driving around while drinking, until he got caught one Friday night while piled in a truck with others.

“I’m glad I got caught,” said Lemire. “You may not get the chance to say ‘Mom; I’m in trouble; come pick me up.’

“Success is hard enough. Don’t cripple yourself by doing something like this.”

As a paramedic, Mike Sahlberg of Medix Ambulance Service had plenty of impaired driving nightmares to share, including:

• A woman a week out from her first year of college whose father provided her with beer and a sports car to party. She rammed, at about 75 miles an hour, into a small truck, killing a mother and her daughter – the two were pulling into a family residence to celebrate the daughter’s third birthday, and the mother was pregnant.

• A recent high school graduate who received a new truck for the occasion and took it out for a drive, along with three cases of beer. He was ejected through the windshield and onto the roadway. “He hit so hard that it literally tore his anus out,” said Sahlberg, adding that the driver’s friend caved his head in on impact with some rocks.

“I love to teach people and prevent them from getting into the back of my ambulance in the first place,” said Sahlberg.

He said people need to also think about how the death of a loved one affects family, friends and the community, adding that “80 percent of all marriages fail (after) the death of a child; that’s a fact.”

Drugs and alcohol, he said, inhibit dopamine receptors in the brain that take part in several neurological functions, including motivation, pleasure, cognition, memory, learning, and fine motor control. Drug use can stunt the brain’s growth, he added, adding that after cessation, it can take up to a year to restart, leaving a person behind the curve.

Impaired driving affects more than the victims, perpetrators

Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Nelson had a sinking feeling when pulling up to his driveway and seeing then-Deputy Tom Bergin’s patrol vehicle in his driveway. “I had a hollow feeling. I didn’t know why.”

It was Jan. 11, 1997, and Bergin told him how his daughter, 19-year-old Jamie Nelson, had been killed a couple hours earlier in a crash on U.S. Highway 101 near Shelton, Wash. A nurse from a local state prison he remembers by the name of Caufield was driving down the wrong side of the highway, high on prescription drugs he’d been stealing from his work.

“Before my daughter’s boyfriend could make corrections, he was faced with an oncoming car at 60 miles per hour,” said Deputy Nelson.

The driver walked away in handcuffs; it took one and a half years for him to go to trial; he served 34 months; and now he’s free. Mike Nelson said he’d like to think that Caufield served his time where he used to work, but he can’t be sure.

He said that it’s people’s responsibility to make sure their friends and loved ones don’t drive impaired, even if it means offering a ride home. “If you don’t think you will have anyone who will do it for you, call me; I’ll come and do it for you.”

Iris Rankin’s brother Robert James Rankin, then 20 years old, was killed in January of 2009 when his Toyota Tacoma crashed through a guardrail, continued over and down a 50-foot embankment and stopped on the driver's side on U.S. Highway 30.

“The emotional roller coaster I’ve experienced can hardly be described,” she said, adding that her mother, father and sister all cope in different ways. “With everything I do and everywhere I go, I’m reminded of a piece of me that is missing.”

For more information on the Every 15 Minutes program, visit www.every15 minutes.com

      

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