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Safe driving scenario all too real for East Rowan students

By Shavonne Walker

shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — East Rowan High School student Kristen Brady wiped away tears as she heard the screams of a mother whose son was killed in a car crash right in front of her.

It was only a scenario, and the people involved were just actors. But with one simple mistake, it could have easily been real.

Students filled metal bleachers Tuesday set up outside the front of the school where they got a first-hand view of what a fatal car accident looks like thanks to the nonprofit group Vehicle Injury Prevention for a Very Important Person (VIP for a VIP). The Guilford County-based group created the scenario, complete with actors and help from local EMS, law enforcement and rescuers who brought all the sounds, sights and smells of a fatal vehicle accident to life for the students.

“I was emotional because it could be any of us. I love everybody here. It’s hard. It was very real,” Brady said, still wiping away tears.

What really brought Brady to tears was when the mother and father in the scenario ran out, cried and screamed at the death of their son.

She thought as she watched the scenario unfold of her friends and family whom she would miss if something were to happen to them.

Brady said it’s a reminder to not take anything for granted.

Firefighters Steve Zimmerman and Larry Cockman developed the program to show teenagers “the real ending to the story” in an effort to prevent accidents. The program has been presented throughout North Carolina.

Program director Bobby Bulla, a retired High Point fire captain, told the teens about the 2015 death of his son, Chase, who was killed in a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer.

He spoke of the cries from his wife as they drove the hour to the hospital where they found out their 18-year-old did not make it.

“I apologize for being stern, but the message is coming from the heart,” he said.

He encouraged the students to tell their family  members they love them, because they never knew if it will be the last time they see each other.

“Speed kills; save the speed for the athletic field,” Bulla said.

Emily Avalos said the program was great and “very emotional,” especially the morning session where students heard from the mother of Hunter Schenk, who was killed nine months ago in a crash on Goodman Lake Road.

Avalos said watching the crash scene unfold took her back to the feelings she had when she attended Schenk’s funeral. It was the first funeral she’d ever attended.

“It took me back emotionally,” she said of losing her friend.

She and Schenk were in honors chorus together.

“It’s hard because you don’t want to ever believe these moments. He was supposed to graduate with us,” Avalos said.

She and her sister are 11 months apart. While hearing Jennifer Shoe speak about her son Hunter and other speakers, Avalos said she was imagining that if she lost her sister, she’d be devastated.

Shoe said Rowan County Sheriff’s Deputy Tommy Cato contacted her and asked if she would be willing to speak.

“I wanted these kids to really know it doesn’t have to be like that — that cellphone call, that text is not important,” Shoe said.

She said she really wanted the students to stop and think before they do something that would affect their lives and their families. Shoe said for students who might drive impaired, she knows parents would rather get a call asking for a ride rather than a call that the a son or daughter was dead.

Rowan County Deputy Scott Flowers was instrumental in getting the program to come to the school. When he was a school resource officer there about a year and a half ago, he inquired about the program.

He explained that it’s a very in-demand program and the wait to get a visit is about three years. The program also has been featured at West Rowan and Carson high schools.

Flowers said he thought the talk from Jennifer Shoe really brought home the point.

Jenny Zayonce, who portrayed the mother in the scenario, said she’s been working nine years with the program. She said her goal and that of the others is to reach the kids, even if they reach just one.

EMS Battalion Chief Chris Richardson said these types of collisions can really have a profound effect on rescue personnel as well. He and his department participated in the scenario.

Rockwell Police Chief Hugh Bost opened the program by setting the scene for the re-enactment. He shared with the students how the crash occurred after the teen struck a utility pole, snapping it in half and lodging it into the vehicle. He told the students about the crash causing so much momentum that it snapped the legs of the victim, pinning him inside.

The crash was realistic, responders and students said.

Near the end of the program, Investigator Todd Taylor of the Granite Quarry-Faith Joint Police Authority poured a can of beer on the ground in front of the students, sending the smell of alcohol into the air.

Rescuers had to free the re-enactment victim from the car, cutting off the driver’s side door and peeling the top like a can of sardines. He was removed from the car on a stretcher and his heart was shocked, but to no avail.

His mother and father came running onto the scene, crying and pleading for emergency crews to save his life. He was eventually placed into a black body bag and it was zipped up around him.

It takes 0.7 seconds to buckle a seat belt, Bost told the students.

The following agencies participated in the scenario — the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, the State Highway Patrol, Rockwell Police Department, Rockwell Rural Fire Department, Rowan County EMS, Rowan County Rescue Squad, N.C. Wildlife, and Granite Quarry-Faith Joint Police Authority.

Currently, the program is booked through 2020 and has reached 177,584 students.

For more information about the program, visit www.vipforavip.com.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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