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Grim Reaper Presides over Simulated Motor Vehicle Fatality at Hillsborough High School

The immediate aftermath of a head-on collision staged at Hillsborough High School. Credits: Rod Hirsch
The accident scene. Credits: Rod Hirsch
Beer cans clatter to the ground as the driver of one of the cars opens the door of her vehicle. She was arrested and led away in handcuffs by police. Credits: Rod Hirsch
The handcuffed driver is led to a police car for transport to headquarters and processing. Credits: Rod Hirsch
Firefighters cut through the door of one of the cars to remove the victims from the vehicle. Credits: Rod Hirsch

HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - Several hundred Hillsborough High School students watched as one of their classmates was handcuffed by police and placed in the back seat of a patrol car while firefighters and emergency first responders worked feverishly to help four other victims of a simulated head-on collision in the parking lot of the high school at the intersection of Amwell Road and Raider Boulevard.

Four beer cans clattered to the ground when police opened the door to remove the driver, who appeared dazed but uninjured. Police questioned her, and conducted field sobriety tests.

Nearby, the Grim Reaper, staff in hand, hovered over the body of another classmate, wrapped in a white sheet alongside the convertible she had been riding in; firefighters had to cut the door away from the convertible to remove her limp body.

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A black hearse arrived to remove the student’s body.

As the simulated drama continued to unfold, more rescue vehicles, sirens blaring and lights flashing, pulled into the parking lot.

The driver of the convertible, her face bloodied, survived the crash, and was placed on a stretcher and wheeled over to a nearby ambulance.

There were three other victims in the second car; the driver who was arrested, a rear seat passenger, and the front seat passenger, who was sprawled across the hood of the car, catapulted through the windshield by the impact of the crash.

Both passengers necks’ were wrapped and immobilized as they were placed on stretchers and wheeled to the waiting ambulances.

Overhead, Northstar, the State Police medivac helicopter, circled the accident scene several times before landing in the adjacent athletic field to transport the victims to a hospital.

The “Every 15 Minutes” event, modeled after a national program, follows a carefully scripted scenario intended to educate graduating seniors in dramatic fashion on the consequences of drinking and driving.

Hillsborough Police, firefighters, and emergency services personnel contributed their time to heighten the level of realism.

Prior to filing outside to witness the mock accident, students were exposed to other elements of the “Every 15 Minutes” program which emphasizes that someone is killed in an alcohol-related car accident every 15 minutes.

Once outdoors, the simulation began with a frenzied 911 call from a witness broadcast from remote speakers pointed at the crowd of students. The caller was overcome by the moment, struggling to provide answers to the dispatcher; the call was followed by back-and-forth chatter on police and emergency radio bands, lending more urgency to the staged event.

“Motor vehicle accident with reported multiple injuries . . . entrapment reported . . . “

Several radio news broadcasts from New York and New Jersey news stations followed.

“A tragic accident . . . at least one person is dead . . . all of the occupants sustained injuries . . . alcohol played a role in the accident . . . “

Once the accident scene was cleared, school principal Karen Bingert took hold of a microphone for a short message to the students.

“Drinking and driving is a choice you make that you can never unmake,” she said. “Don’t drink and drive. It’s as simple as that.”

The students filed back into the school for their next dose of reality – a courtroom simulation and criminal trial for the driver accused of impaired driving and death by auto.

On Friday, the program concludes with a memorial assembly for the student “killed” in the accident; the students will also hear from the mother of a high school student who was killed in a drunk driving accident. 

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