SUMMIT, NJ - The stands were packed at Summit High School (SHS) but, on this occasion, it wasn't for a Hilltopper sports event. No, these were temporary bleachers situated in the parking lot adjacent to the Upper Turf Field, and they were occupied by every SHS junior and senior class member.
What they witnessed was intense, disturbing, and completely shocking - exactly the idea behind the 'One Moment Three Decisions' (OM3D) program, which simulates a motor vehicle accident, caused by distracted or under-the-influence driving, and a full-scale, real-time police, fire, EMS and helicopter medical evacuation response.
This program is designed to raise student awareness about the consequences of driving while distracted, drunk, or using illegal substances, and was planned in conjunction with Shaping Summit Together and the Summit Police Department, with the the assistance of the Summit Fire Department, the Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad, and Atlantic Health System.
After the students were seated at 1:30 p.m., tarps covering a large mass sitting in front of them were lifted, revealing the staged accident site. What the students saw were two cars that collided head on, with the driver of one of the cars having been ejected from his driver's seat through the windshield.
Speakers blared the audio of a 9-1-1 call from one of the accident victims, who were portrayed by SHS students. Thereafter, frantic screaming and shouting began as those involved in the accident realized what had happened. Seconds later, a Summit Police Department cruiser came at a high rate of speed onto the scene.
The display of carnage was obvious and felt real -- again, as it was intended to be. Within moments, the Summit Fire Department, EMS, and the Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad were on site, with the fire department cutting open a section of one vehicle to extract an injured passenger.
All the while, select Summit Police Department personnel were on live microphones, adding even more reality to staged presentation.
Overhead, the whirring noise of an Atlantic Health System medevac helicopter was heard. The helicopter landed on the lower grass field to airlift a severely injured crash victim to the hospital.
One 'fatality' was confirmed on scene, and a black hearse approached, eventually taking the 'deceased' away. Behind the vehicle were 'The Walking Dead,' students who were -- every ten minutes throughout the school day -- removed from his or her classroom by a Summit Police officer who also read a scenario of an accident, followed by a school counselor who read the student’s obituary.
Each of these students returned to class wearing a black T-Shirt with face make-up symbolizing 'The Walking Dead.' These students were not able to speak for the rest of the day. All students who participated in the simulated car accident or were a member of 'The Walking Dead' attended a retreat the evening of April 25 to review the events of the day.
The following day, the students returned to attend an assembly that staged a mock funeral, bringing closure to the events from April 25. The assembly included statements from some parents of the students who were involved in the simulated accident as well as student reactions to the event.
Also, Ellen Lurig, who lost tragically lost her high school-age son in a drunk driving accident spoke, sharing her experience of loss with the students.
In a letter e-mailed to parents, SHS principal Stacy Grimaldi said, "It my hope that the keynote speaker and the events of the past two days will not only be inspirational, but encourage healthy conversations with you and your children about the dangers of driving under the influence and/or distracted driving."
Grimaldi added, "I am aware of the heavy emotions this may bring up for some of the students and staff. The entire Counseling Department and the Child Study Team will be available to support any students in need."
The principal went on to acknowledge Amy Herber, Student Assistance Counselor at Summit High School, saying "the program would not have been possible without the (her) tireless efforts."
Summit Police Chief Robert Weck indicated that the initiative is the next phase of an ongoing, integrated effort directed at the city's youth and residents at large. “This program is an important next step by the Summit Police Department in our continuing education of students and the community about not using alcohol, drugs or engaging in distracted driving,” said Weck. “Summit has not had a tragedy involving a student for as long as I can remember and I believe the reason is that students are listening to our message. We hope to implement OM3D every other year at Summit High School student to ensure that every student has access to it.”
Weck brought the program to Summit after learning about the program in 2012 and viewing the program in Madison in 2014 when his daughter participated in it.
“Sergeant Rick Proctor and I researched the program and realized the value of bringing this program to Summit,” Weck continues. “The program is so impactful and inspirational, and we want that for our students here. It builds on the D.A.R.E. program that begins in fifth grade and comes full circle for them now as juniors and seniors.”