Somber reenactment highlights dangers of drinking and driving

Wednesday, May 5, 2004
Firefighters and emergency medical technicians place senior Kendra Dankenbring on a stretcher to be lifted by air ambulance while Santa Fe High School students watch the mock crash scene unfold. Dozens of first responders volunteered to participate in the simulation of a crash involving a drunk driver. The last simulation was staged at the Alma high school three years ago.

It was a somber day for students at Santa Fe High School.

Sirens screamed and emergency lights flashed as fire trucks, ambulances and police cars arrived on the corner of Mitchell and Second streets in Alma.

Although the car crash scene in front of the high school was staged, it drove home the consequences of driving drunk for some students watching. One student lay sprawled on the hood of a car, another was apparently thrown from the vehicle and one was failing to walk a straight line for a state trooper during the reenactment. The students' parents arrived, crying and screaming, and several watching eyes filled with tears.

"As a mother, it's a whole different story than being a teenager," said Angela Steffens, who acted in a compelling role of finding her daughter dead. "As a mother, every time you turn them loose you worry about it, that they make the right decision."

The event was organized by the school's Students Against Drunk Driving club. Dozens of firefighters, policemen, emergency medical technicians, state troopers and sheriff's deputies volunteered in the mock scene, which included an air ambulance. Many of the volunteers stayed for a mock funeral in the gymnasium following the nearly hour-long scene of ripping apart the car to get to the passengers, having emergency personnel remove the bodies, lifting an injured student by air ambulance and watching the "drunk" driver be put in handcuffs.

"This is as real as we can make it," said Roger Meyers, deputy chief for the Concordia Fire Protection District.

A MSHP trooper talks with Deanne Malan and sophomore Emily Null, playing roles as distraught family witnesses while student Sara Steffens lies beneath a tarp, playing the part of a fatality in the crash scene. Null, a member of Students Against Drunk Driving, said she hopes the mock accident influences her classmates to not drink and drive.

He told students that first responders see too many of this type of T-bone or side-impact accident, and too many of them are caused by drunk driving. Often, lives can be saved by simply wearing a seat belt, Meyers said.

Chip Drenon, a sergeant with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, said in the mock accident, he would be the one who tells families of the deaths.

"I have to look at them in the eye and say 'I'm sorry. You've lost your son' or 'you've lost your daughter,'" he said. "I have lost count of the people who have grabbed my arm and asked me to help them. I have lost count of how many times I have had to knock on a door."

Santa Fe SADD President Kendra Dankenbring implored the students not to drink the night of graduation. "I see a lot of you crying 'cause you think you might have lost someone and yet half of you will drink at senior prom or graduation," she said. "I personally don't want to have to go to somebody's funeral."

Principal Mark Wright told students when a situation such as the one staged happened at a previous school he taught at, no one partied for two weeks, but life soon returned to normal. He said the impact of the crash scene Tuesday will have a short immediate effect on students but may only impact a few students long-term.

Contact Jenny Bryers at

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