April 28, 2022

Article at Roswell Daily Record

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Mock DUI crash brings real-life message to students

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Sirens blared down West Hobbs Street toward Roswell High School on Wednesday morning, a medical helicopter landed in the blocked-off street and first responders rushed toward three vehicles surrounded by glass, blood and empty cans and bottles of alcohol.

“The goal of this program is to give you tools to make smarter choices. We do not want any of you to get behind the wheel of a car under the influence of alcohol or drugs or talking or texting on your cell phones,” she said.

“They’re going to listen all day about don’t drink and drive. And I’m going to try to tell them about what happens to the families that are left,” he said at the scene of the mock crash.

RHS students lined the street in front of the school as they watched their classmates and a school security guard, adorned in fake blood, in the roles of the victims and the perpetrator of the accident. Some of the students made jokes and laughed during the mock crash, but others sat or stood quietly as they watched the scene. Several students said the realism of the crash scene was shocking.

The mock accident was played out as if it were real, with firefighters using the Jaws of Life to peel open one of the crashed vehicles to remove the victims. Robert Johnson, an RHS security guard, was sprawled on the hood of the vehicle. In the scenario, he was helping jump-start the vehicle in the middle of the street, with the two vehicles nose-to-nose.

Student Anahi Sierra, portraying one of the victims, lay halfway out the windshield of the third vehicle. Her fellow student, Gabriel Nail, also portraying a crash victim, hung out the back passenger’s window. Fake blood dripped from both the students into puddles on the pavement.

Portraying victims who died at the scene, they were largely ignored by first responders as they worked to remove the other students and Johnson from the vehicles. The crash victim portrayed by Johnson became the third fatality after being transported by ambulance to Lovelace Regional Hospital. Another student was loaded onto a helicopter for a flight to the hospital. Two more students were taken by ambulance to Eastern New Mexico Medical Center.

At both hospitals, the mock victims were treated as if they were real in the emergency rooms. Law enforcement made notifications to the parents of the deceased. “Even the parents knowing that this was fake, when they did the death notifications this morning, broke down because it’s very, very real,” said Chaves County Undersheriff Charles Yslas.

Irish, his face covered in fake blood, was removed from his vehicle and given a simulated field sobriety test by New Mexico State Police Officer Kimber Brashear. When he “failed” the test, she handcuffed him and placed him in the back of her patrol vehicle. He was removed from the vehicle and placed where he could see the “bodies” removed from his vehicle and placed in body bags.

Later in the afternoon, a mock trial was held in the Fifth District Court at the Chaves County Courthouse. The driver, portrayed by Irish, was led into into the courtroom wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and sandals, his hands and ankles in chains. A jury of RHS students found him guilty of the charges against him. Judge Thomas Lilley sentenced him to 30 years in prison.

“When he found out about this, I think he thought it would be fun,” the father said. But seeing his friends loaded into an ambulance and body bags made a difference, he said.

Nail, who played the part of a student killed in the mock crash, actually served as a jury member in the trial. He said it was surreal to hear himself referred to as being dead.

The event takes months to plan, Taylor said, but even with all the work, organizers considered canceling because of recent events affecting Roswell High. Several students have been the victims of fatal shootings in recent months, Carrasco said, including two killed April 16 in a shooting at Cahoon Park.

“The young people who lost their lives are not the only ones who really, technically lost a life. Somebody’s responsible and when they’re found and they’re tried, they may be in prison for the rest of their lives, so those lives are lost. We have families all over this community that are hurting. My school, our school is hurting right now for the losses we’ve had,” he said.

“But the message needs to be that we need to forgive. We need to remember, but we need to use it make better choices in the future. And if that allows us to save even one life, then it’s been well worth it,” Carrasco said.