ELMWOOD PARK, NJ - A drunk driver caused a two car collision that claimed the life of his passenger and injured three others, including one who was ejected from the vehicle he was traveling in on Thursday.
Victims could be seen bloodied and heard shouting out for help as Elmwood Park first responders, including police officers, firefighters, and EMTs, rushed to the scene, working feverishly to extricate and render care to the victims, and apprehend the 18-year-old suspect that faces decades behind bars.
Thankfully, this was all a drill hosted by the Elmwood Park Safety Committee.
Unfortunately, Scott Karcz, Director of Public Works and Director of Safety for Elmwood Park, told the members of the Class of 2019 that had assembled in front of their high school to see firsthand the tragic consequences of making a bad decision behind the wheel, it’s a scene that plays out in real life all to often.
300 times a year across the country, he told the teens just days before they celebrate their own senior prom, “it’s real blood, real guts, real families devastated” as a result of prom-related car crashes caused by impaired drivers. In his 33 years of service to the community, including as the chief of the fire department, he added, he’s seen seven children killed in accidents caused by someone that shouldn’t be behind the wheel.
Among the “victims” was senior Kayla Liptak. “I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt,” she told this reporter as she sat in the backseat of the mangled vehicle, sporting fake blood and bruises courtesy of makeup artists Jaimie and Izzy Saks, preparing for her role.
Looking forward to her prom, as well as a college career at William Paterson where she’ll be playing soccer, Liptak hopes that through the drill her classmates will be “taught a valuable lesson.”
“You don’t think it’s going to be your friends,” she said contemplating the situation before adding that while the intention isn’t to take the fun out of end-of-school year celebrations she hopes that it does “freak them out” into making smarter decisions.
Elmwood Park Police Chief Michael Foligno stood with several of his officers as the drill, made to look as much as what a real accident scene looks like as possible. “We get it,” Foligno said when it comes to the young adult’s desire to have fun. “We want everyone to be responsible, to understand it’s not legal, that there are legal ramifications,” to certain actions that some feel empowered to take because “everyone else is doing it.”
As the scene played out one group of students, Alejandro, Victoria, Elam, Devin, and Nico looked on with intent. “It looks real,” Alejandro said recalling that he first noticed the scene being set on Saturday. Seeing his friends playing the role of the drunk driver and victims, he said, provided him with a “harsh reality.”
As if talking to a parent each student in a group of six, when asked if the drill would change their plans for prom night, claimed that drinking wasn’t on their agenda, but also acknowledged that other factors, such as texting while driving, can also prove fatal.
“It’s scary,” Anthony said before concluding that he’ll think twice now about his responsibility as a driver.
As the first responders finished their work and students started to head back inside where they would continue into the second phase of the awareness campaign Detective Chris Liptak offered a final plea to drive responsibly.
“The life you save may be your own.”
The vehicles used in the drill were donated and delivered to Elmwood Park High School.