MERRIMACK — Students watched in shock, wiped away tears and shifted uncomfortably on Thursday while witnessing a mock drunk driving accident that simulated a fatal crash.
Although the scene involved student actors, the raw and emotional message was real for the senior class that watched in horror as four classmates played out a life lesson that administrators hope will stay with all the students forever.
"It was shocking. I can't believe I am crying," said Sam Mello after watching the fake car crash and the aftermath — including a drunk driving arrest, a mother arriving at the wreck to find her daughter dead and a memorial service for the young victim.
Mello said she envisioned her and her friends going through a similar experience, and the idea of it scared her.
"I never want to have my mom go through that," said Courtney Hayden. "It gives you the chills. Really, it does, because you don't think something like that can't happen to you."
The event, which took place outside Merrimack High School, will make Hayden think hard about distracted driving — including texting behind the wheel, she said. Each year, the senior class at the high school witnesses a mock drunk driving crash that organized in part by Students Against Destructive Decisions and other organizations such as Merrimack police and emergency crews.
Students watched as Madison Freed lay motionless in the roadway while emergency personnel covered her with a white sheet and lifted her into a body bag. Adam Floyd, the actor portraying the drunken driver, was arrested and placed in handcuffs as Freed's distraught mother arrived to find the shocking scene. Meanwhile, actor friends Meghan Steines, Alyssa Hobbs and Taylor Gilliam watched in disbelief, not fully understanding the horror.
"This message is about making good decisions," said Richard Zampieri, urging students to remember that each choice has a consequence.
Zampieri, whose daughter is learning how to drive, said he fears people on the highways who may be distracted or intoxicated.
"There has been so much tragedy on the road. It is simply heartbreaking," said Principal Ken Johnson. "There is no way to prepare for this type of devastation."
He said it is important to encourage young people to think about their actions, remind them that they are not invincible and hope that they make the right choices when it matters.
With prom season and graduation approaching, it is an ideal time for the safety message, said Johnson. He said he would also like to see a similar event take place in September.
Following the mock crash, students were ushered into the gymnasium where a ersatz memorial service was held for Freed. A eulogy was given and students watched a video highlighting Freed's short life.
"This is reality," said Merrimack police Capt. Mike Dudash, sharing a true story about his high school friend, Tim Milligan, who died in a car crash that involved alcohol about 40 years ago.
In a split second, someone's life can be lost, said Dudash, urging the Class of 2014 to think twice about drinking and driving so that their parents won't get a knock on the door from police with the worst news.