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Mock accident an eye opener for students

Ambulance crews rush to load a victim in a mock drill in Park Rapids Thursday. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)1 / 2
An air ambulance leaves with an "injured victim" aboard from the Nevis School grounds Wednesday. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

It's a scene that plays out daily across the nation - the sickening screech of metal striking metal, the screams, the bloodied vehicle occupants crying out for help.

And then a platoon of emergency personnel rushes in to render assistance.

In Nevis Wednesday it was all staged for the benefit of students. Kids who thought of giggling nervously at the mock accident drill thought better when they observed how seriously rescue workers took their jobs, racing a "critically injured student" to a waiting helicopter after being extracted from a crushed car.

Nevis and Akeley firefighters and First Responders, Hubbard County deputies and North Memorial Ambulance personnel converged on the scene of a faux prom accident that looked deadly serious.

Thursday a repeat performance took place on Park Rapids school grounds. Members of Students Against Destructive Decisions organized the event.

State Trooper Dion Pederson spoke with Park Rapids students about the dangers of texting while driving.

A deadly four-day period on Minnesota roads occurred this time last year when 17 people were killed during April 23-26, he told the students. Of those killed, seven were teenagers of which only six were buckled up.

According to the Department of Public Safety, other comparable four day deadly periods in Minnesota include: 19 deaths during July 31-Aug.3, 2007; and two periods in 2003, 20 deaths, May 15-18, and 18 deaths, July 10-13.

The 2010 tragedies included a six-fatality crash in Cambridge, where an impaired driver slammed head-on into another vehicle; and a triple-fatal crash in Winona County involving racing teens. All but two of the 17 deaths were people ages 27 and younger, and of the 16 motorists killed, at least 12 were not buckled up; one death was a motorcyclist.

Cell phones are one of the biggest distractions for people while driving. Radios and other people in the car are also distractions, Pederson said.

"I've had to do probably 30 to 40 notifications to families about someone who died in a crash," he said. "They tell us they never forget our face."

Pederson also showed the students a video showing real fatal accidents that happened because of texting while driving.

He encouraged the high schoolers to be role models to their younger siblings.

Gordy Pehrson, youth programs coordinator with the DPS Office of Traffic Safety, said last year's deadly spring, and current prom and upcoming graduation seasons, are cues for parents to set rules and limitations for teen drivers.

Pehrson says parents should establish limits on nighttime driving and number of passengers, and parents should reinforce traffic laws - such as the primary seat belt law and the ban on texting and all cell phone use for drivers under age 18.

"Parents have an ongoing responsibility to monitor and train their teens in a variety of driving conditions and environments, especially during the first years of licensure when teens are at highest risk of crashing," Pehrson said. "Parents should make decisions with safety as a priority over convenience. Staying involved in a teen's driving on the road is just as important as knowing how they are doing in the classroom."

DPS offers a teen-parent driver contract at Click on "Teen Driving."

DPS officials also note the consequences of providing alcohol to minors and the dangers of underage drinking and during prom and graduation season:

More than 70 Minnesota cities and counties have implemented social host ordinances, which make it unlawful to provide an environment where underage drinking takes place, regardless of who provides the alcohol.

As a misdemeanor, any host found criminally responsible of violating the social host ordinance will face a penalty of time in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.

Adults who provide alcohol to minors can be held responsible and suffer serious criminal, legal and financial consequences, including: felony charges and prison time in the case of death; civil liability charges in the case of injury, property damage or death; and increased insurance rates.

The state's "Not a Drop" law says driving minors cited for any amount of alcohol use will lose their license from 30 to 180 days, and face up to a $700 fine and 90 days in jail.

Minors will lose their license until age 18 when arrested for DWI or involved in an impaired driving crash or crime. A DWI offense can result in one year in jail, and cost up to $20,000 when factoring in legal fees and increased insurance rates.

To-date in Minnesota in 2011, there has been 67 traffic deaths, compared to 85 at this time in 2010.