By ZAK GRIMM
“Eighty-eight percent of young millenials have engaged in at least one risky behavior driving behind the wheel in the past 30 days,” said Fredericktown High School sophomore Jack Fitzpatrick. Joined by fellow student and speaker Madison Andrew, the two opened the May 9, 2017 FHS Mock Crash, a controlled, live demonstration of what can happen when an individual becomes distracted while behind the wheel–even for a moment.
Andrew said that these types of risky and dangerous behaviors include texting while driving, reading a text or email while behind the wheel, driving through a light that just turned red, or driving ten miles per hour over the posted speed limit. Even simple actions such as yelling to a friend on a sidewalk or arguing with a friend in the seat next to him or her in the car contribute greatly to the consequences of distracted driving.
Fitzpatrick added key information regarding the science of the brain as it relates to behaviors of young adults, saying that the human brain does not fully develop proper impulse control, judgement and decision-making skills until an individual reaches his or her early-20s. For young drivers like those at FHS, this critical time frame is still years away.
Every year, 421,000 people are injured in accidents caused by distracted drivers, said Fitzpatrick. When it comes to texting and driving specifically, eleven teenagers die every day in accidents.
Helping solidify the message to the gathered FHS students and demonstrating the often long, complex processes that occur when a multiple-vehicle, multiple-victim accident occurs were the Fredericktown Police Department, Fredericktown EMS, Fredericktown Community Fire District, Knox County Sheriff’s Office, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Knox County Coroner, Knox County Prosecutor, Snyder Funeral Homes, Knox County 911 Dispatch Center, Med Flight, and Air Evac.
Participating as victims and family members for the duration of the event were FHS students Cassidy Frazier, Cole Bebout, Holly McClay, Kane Johnston, Elyse Swihart, Michael Herbst, Jacob Yoder, Kyra Adkins, JC Holmes, and staff members Maggie Browne, Stuart Semerar, Melissa Midcap, and Katie Wagner.
Initially, FHS senior Cole Bebout arrived first on the scene and contacted the Knox County 911 Dispatch Center to report the 3-vehicle crash. The details of the call were relayed via a PA system, so that students could gain a better understanding of what actually happens in those first moments.
In the first vehicle involved were Swihart, Adkins, Johnston and McClay. Swihart, the driver, had been distracted by both her friends in the car and by her cell phone. Just before cresting a hill, while taking pictures of and wanting to pass a third car driven by friends, she did not see the driver and passenger of the second car–FHS staff members and “parents” Semerar and Browne–coming the other way over the hill. Swihart and Semerar’s vehicles collided head-on, resulting in the death of the parents, as well as Adkins, a passenger in the vehicle driven by Swihart.
Additionally, McClay and Johnston, passengers in the rear of Swihart’s vehicle, became trapped, and had to be extricated by members of the Fredericktown Community Fire District. Both were said to be transported from the scene by Air Evac and Med Flight.
In the third car, three individuals–students Michael Herbst, Jacob Yoder and Cassidy Frazier, fell victim to the actions of the first vehicle as their car flipped onto its top. Herbst and Yoder were ejected from the vehicle, but were treated for only minor injuries. Frazier, whom had also been ejected from the vehicle, died at the scene.
Ohio State Highway Patrolman Jeremy Ranalli was on hand to narrate the actions of each responding department and service, helping the students better understand the importance and reality of a situation that he repeatedly stressed can, and does, happen.
“When we arrive on a scene like this one,” Ranalli said, “we wish we hadn’t. If you’re sitting there thinking, ‘This stuff doesn’t happen, this is made up–it does. It’s one of the hardest things that I have to deal with in my job–when I show up to a scene like this.”
“These are your friends. This could be your parents, aunts, uncles–people that you know.”
Ranalli acknowledged that no one likes to see an OSHP trooper pull up behind them, and even less so when they get a ticket for doing something outside of the law. But, as he stressed, those moments are meant to prevent the scene in front of the students from happening.
“If you’re critically injured in an accident, you have about one hour to get to the hospital,” said Ranalli, before things can become very dangerous or even fatal.
Approximately one hour was the time frame that the Mock Crash detailed, much of that time taken necessary for the extrication of McClay and Johnston, and preparation for their transport by Air Evac and Med Flight. Significant time was also taken for the investigation by law enforcement.
First on scene to respond to Bebout’s call was the Fredericktown EMS, whom initially assessed the situation to determine whom among the victims was most seriously hurt, or whom was dead. After an initial assessment, it was determined that additional EMS units were needed at the scene to treat victims.
Approximately fifteen minutes into the process and following the Fredericktown EMS units, the Fredericktown Community Fire District was called to remove McClay and Johnston from their places in the rear of their vehicle. Also arriving on-scene was both the Fredericktown Police Department, the Knox County Sherrif’s Office and the Ohio State Highway Patrol. According to Ranalli, law enforcement often does not respond immediately.
After another fifteen minutes–a whole 30 minutes since the call came into Dispatch–Air Evac was called to transport either McClay or Johnston. As they had been since their arrival, the Ohio State Highway Patrol continued to assess and document the situation–finding out who was driving, who were passengers, and other details of the accident. The OSHP also contacted Med Flight to transport a second victim, as well as the nearest tow trucks to help clear the scene once all details were gathered and victims were taken care of.
Part of the initial investigation by The Ohio State Highway Patrol is to identify victims whom are dead, so that families can be notified. At the scene, these victims are identified, and their bodies measured and marked, so that the Knox County Coroner can record accurate information.
“It’s not a phone call to them. It’s me and the Sheriff’s Department, going to your house, and telling your parents that you’re dead. They’re not told you’re ‘gone,’ they’re told you’re dead,” said Ranalli.
Just before the 30-minute mark, McClay and Johnston began receiving treatment for their injuries. Med Flight then arrived to transport one of them to the nearest appropriate hospital, in Columbus.
As Med Flight transported the victim, the Fire Department continued their work, and responding law enforcement remained on-scene to further document any vital evidence of the crash, OSHP officers had been talking to Swihart about the accident, trying to further accurately determine the cause of the accident.
With her at fault and others dead and injured, Ranalli reminded students that Swihart would have to live with the consequences of her actions for the rest of her life. It was made clear that she was detained for a reason determined by the other OSHP officer, which Ranalli said is also a reality of a situation like the one witnessed by the students.
“It’s not just in those moments with our officer, either, that she’ll have to relive these moments” said Ranalli. “She may have to go to school later on, and look at her friends, and everyone will know what happened.”
“There are consequences for every decision you make while driving,” said Ranalli. “Sometimes, it’s that you crossed over the yellow line just a little. Other times, it’s what’s happening here.”
A full 35 minutes into the tragedy, there still had not been a take-off from Med Flight or Air Evac to transport victims, whom had then been waiting with serious injuries for a significant amount of time.
“Today’s scene has a good place for Med Flight and Air Evac to land,” said Ranalli. “You’re not always going to have that, so it can take much longer for them to be able to leave.”
Also arriving on scene to make a final determination about the deceased victims was longtime Knox County Coroner Jennifer Ogle.
After 45 minutes, Air Evac and MedFlight were able to leave the scene with Johnston and McClay. It was not until just before this point in the time frame that the parents–represented by FHS staff member Melissa Midcap and FHS student JC Holmes–of the victims arrived on-scene, and were told the fates of their loved ones.
While the parents were notified, OSHP continued to document every physical detail of the scene, such as the bodies’ distances from their vehicles, their locations and any other pertinent details–which they will then send to the Knox County Prosecutor, whom will determine whether or not criminal charges could be brought against Swihart, the offending driver.
“There is no phone call, no text message, nothing that anyone in the car with you can say that is more important than you keeping your eyes on the road. Nothing,” said Ranalli.
“You can pause a movie at home. You don’t have to take a phone call or send a text behind the wheel,” he added. Some of you might be thinking, ‘But I might be late getting to a party, and my friends need to know.’ Just get there. People I stop on the highway because they’re speeding will tell me the same thing. I always just tell them, ‘Better late than not at all.’”
As the accident scene was finalized and the deceased victims were beginning their transport to the Coroner’s Office, Fredericktown Patrolman Ronny Flynn gave the students a final opportunity to let the possible reality sink in, having each victim carried past.
“These are your friends; your classmates. These are your teachers. Your custodian. Think about how you’d feel if you would come to school after something like this, and know that you’d never see these friends again. That you’d never see your teachers again,” he said. “Think of this today as a real incident, because it can be. We see it a lot as law enforcement, but it still hurts to see it.”
“Yes, driving can be fun, but you’ve got to be responsible. You have to put down that cell phone.”
Flynn related a close-call he’d had while being very distracted with his friends while driving. “I look up, and there’s a telephone pole, right in front of us. I missed it–I don’t know how I did, but I missed it. If I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t be here today.”
Fredericktown Superintendent Matt Chrispin then offered a few words for the students prior to their dismissal back to their classrooms.
“Nothing is more sobering in the month of May in a school, than to deal with a student’s death. Eight of the thirteen I’ve dealt with is because of this stuff–distracted driving. You don’t want to be that person. You don’t want to be remembered that way,” he said.
“It’s about making decisions. You have to make good decisions. Not just this weekend, but every day, especially if you’re behind the wheel. A true friend stops somebody if they’re not handling their cell phone right, or they get out of the car until their friend does the right thing. A true friend doesn’t pull the seat belt a little tighter, and not say anything when this kind of thing doesn’t happen.”
“You have to watch out for each other. We’re a small community–we all know each other. We need to take care of each other, and hold each other accountable, and make sure we’re all making good decisions, especially when we’re driving.”
Thank you to the Fredericktown Police Department, Fire District, EMS, Knox County Sheriff’s Office, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Knox County 911 Dispatch, Med Flight, Air Evac, Fredericktown High School students and staff, and Snyder’s Funeral Home for your hard work, dedication and support for the 2017 Mock Crash.
Fredericktown students, please be safe and smart on the road during the excitement of Prom weekend, and every day after!