Event illustrates driving dangers for teenagers

BLUE MT. LAKE -- It’s prom night. Two teenagers from Indian Lake and two from Long Lake enjoyed their Senior Prom and are now driving in search of an after prom party they want to attend. As soon as they got in the car, drinking of beer and champagne provided by the driver’s older brother began in earnest.

Not exactly sure where the party is, the driver turns to his trusty cell phone and starts sending a text message to someone who should be able to give him directions as he turns off the highway onto Durant Rd. in Blue Mt. Lake.

It takes only a few seconds to focus on the texting instead of the driving while under the influence, but those few seconds of inattention result in the car driving off the road and running into a tree on the playground where some of them may have played when younger.

The late night crash is loud and wakes some nearby residents who call the State Police and Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office.

Emergency response is quick, but quick isn’t always quick enough. One of the teens is dead at the scene.

Two are seriously injured. Only the driver, who sustained a neck injury, walks from the scene into the arms of police.

This horrible accident didn’t happen but was a staged Mock DWI and Distracted Driving event held Thursday, May 8, at the location described above.

The “victims” were students from the two schools.

The first responders were from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, State Police and the Indian Lake, Long Lake and Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire departments and ambulance corps.

The most important attendees were the bus loads of high school students from Indian Lake and Long Lake who saw up close and personal what can happen when one drinks and drives or texts while driving.

They saw the horror and the anguish of the mother of the dead teen running and crying as she fought to get near her son while hoping it isn’t so.

They saw how the tragedy unfolds beyond the accident when they went to the auditorium of the Adirondack Museum to watch the “hearing” held for the drunk and texting driver.

Most wrenching of all for the students was to hear the mother of the dead teen describe her loss to the boy responsible for the accident at the arraignment -- heard her describe the loss of a son who would never celebrate his 18th birthday and seeing his lifeless body on a cold slab in the morgue. She told him, “I will never know all he might have become because you had to answer a text. You dealt him a death penalty for what you did.”

If this had been a real accident, the charges against the driver would be serious and could result in 15 years in state prison. The older brother who provided alcohol could face up to a year in the county jail.

Even the teens who survived the accident would be charged, with underage drinking.

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Chase Arsenault, Long Lake, played the driver and Ranya Hamden, Long Lake, was his injured date. Joe DeShaw, Indian Lake, was the fatality and Cheyenne Wilder was his injured date. Michelle Hutchins was the grieving mother.

Deputy Corey Hutchins was the arresting officer. NYSP Trooper Mike Kohan comforted the grieving mother. “Judge” Jim Curry presided at the hearing. District Attorney Marsha Purdue handled the prosecution and Attorney Paul Roalsvig was the defense attorney.

Miller Funeral Home provided a hearse.

After the mock hearing was held Carrie Cummins from Hamilton County Mental Health Services spoke to the students about the impacts such an accident has upon the survivors, family, friends and even the first responders, saying, “It’s like a personal tornado that disrupts your life forever.”

Sheriff Karl Abrams spoke of his 22 years in law enforcement and the anguish he has felt at real scenes as tragic as this. He said, “I can’t count the number of times I have had to knock on a door to tell someone their loved one is dead,” and urged the students to have fun at their prom but use their heads.

Julie Wolfe from Berkshire Farm Center, Canaan, which works to turn troubled youth around, told students, “You can make a change and a difference. A texting driver is 23 times more likely to be in an accident. Take the pledge home and sign it.”

peteklein@hamiltoncountyexpress.com