The hardest lessons

A pre-prom anti-drinking event was simulated at Fort Dodge Senior High Friday.

Fort Dodge Police Department officials raced to the scene of a “collision” that was staged as happening on the evening of the upcoming senior prom, April 20.

Students emerged from the senior high after Dodger Time to see two cars had smashed into each other, glass and beer cans strewn on the school parking lot. The “survivors” of the “accident” wept as the body of a slain friend was removed from the wreckage and put on an ambulance.

After witnessing the staged carnage, students from both the senior high and St. Edmond Catholic School entered the FDSH gymnasium for a mock funeral. A casket was set up and survivors, family and friends spoke. FDPD and Webster County Sheriff’s Department rolled the closed bodybag on a gurney around the gym for all to see.

The Rev. Shane Deman, St. Edmond chaplain, in his call to worship explained that seven students were killed in an alcohol-related collision on prom night. The driver, Kyle Johnson, in reality an FDSH student leader who helped coordinate the program, and his friends had been driving on the way to prom, crossed the center line and collided with a car being driven by other students.

“(The students) were found in unstable condition, though passed away later that night surrounded by family and friends,” Deman said.

Two students and Johnson were the only survivors.

“Sometimes teenagers believe they’re invincible,” Janae Kennedy, Dodger Senate adviser, said. “But unfortunately, they’re not invincible.”

Austin Sanford, a senior at FDSH, played the role of a survivor who allowed his friend, Johnson, to drink that night.

“I was the stupid one,” he said. “I was the sober one, and I knew Kyle was drinking when he got in the driver seat. There’s nothing I can change about prom night, but if I could, I would.”

He added, “From this, I learned never take a moment with your friends for granted. You never know when it will be your last one.”

Theresa Birzer, a senior at St. Edmond, played the role of a student in the other car who survived the collision.

“None of us were drinking. We were all following the rules, having a good time. In one minute, my whole life got turned upside down,” she said. “It sickens me to think the pride and reputation of one person came before the lives of 10.”

Birzer, in her role, expressed guilt for surviving the accident and anger at the person who caused it.

“I don’t understand why I wasn’t taken with them,” she said. “There was no chance for survival for those seven people. The lives of those seven people should never have been taken.”

Officer Joelyn Johnson, FDPD, brought out “offender” Kyle Johnson (no relation) in handcuffs to stand before the mock funeral attendees. Officer Johnson said she would not talk about the suffering of friends and the anguish of family, or the many misdemeanor charges that can come with an OWI charge. Instead, she spoke of the criminal punishments that come with an unintentional homicide by vehicle conviction, a class B felony.

“You don’t have to intend to cause the death of another to be convicted as a felony offender,” she said.

If convicted, there is a fine of up to $150,000, plus restitution for each of the victims, as well as up to 25 years in prison, without bail, of which 70 percent must be served.

Johnson explained that alcohol and drugs “have the ability to alter one’s physical and mental capabilities” and “slow down reaction time and alter perception.” She also described the guilt and shame felt by those who have committed vehicular manslaughter.

“As you consider your plans for tomorrow, next week, maybe next year,” she said, “think, how many long-term plans will be impacted if you are sitting in prison for years, thinking about that one poor decision.”

The Rev. Al Henderson closed, saying that while the accident and funeral the students were seeing was, in fact, all staged, this could easily be their reality, their future.

“You should know the special concern we have for you. We want you to not drink and drive, to avoid a heedless accident,” he said. “I have seen too many families and friends crushed with grief by the death of a young person.”

He added, “You are precious to us. We value you.”