Howard County - Sophomores, juniors, and seniors at Howard-Winneshiek Community School District witnessed firsthand the devastating and sometimes permanent effects that making poor decisions, such as texting, drinking alcohol and/or using drugs, can have on those who choose to do so and get behind the wheel. This was done by way of a “mock crash” demonstration.
“It seems like these things happen to other people,” Rev. Tim Sir told students in the auditorium at Crestwood High School following the mock crash on Friday, April 7. “We don’t ever imagine that this could happen to us. It is so easy to forget the realities of what we are doing, and the consequences of one momentary careless decision…This is a sobering moment. A wakeup call.”
Law enforcement and emergency personnel from throughout Howard County worked together to, first, demonstrate to students the tragic realities of responding to vehicle crashes, before Rev. Sir and fellow representatives took the auditorium stage to speak about personal experiences and to encourage students to make positive life decisions.
The goal of the mock crash is to educate students about the importance of wearing seat belts, paying attention behind the wheel, and to show the consequences of driving impaired. Numerous agencies and community leaders helped to make the program possible.
Cresco Police Chief Tim Ruroden, who has worked in law enforcement since 1992, told students, “One fatality from an accident is too many,” he said, noting that emergency responders who witness these tragedies take the sadness home with them. “We have constant reminders of the day and time when we experience death. It’s really difficult for us. We have to deal with it – that’s our job. But we’re also human.”
Ruroden further cites the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, informing students of the four basic factors in traffic crashes: 1. Drinking and driving; 2. Speeding; 3. Distracted driving and texting; and 4. Bad weather.
“You all have choices to make each and every day,” the police chief continued. “All we want is for each and every one of you to make the best choice and to realize that your choices can affect others – not just yourselves. Anybody on the roadway can be affected by a bad choice.”
Howard County Attorney Kevin Schoeberl told students, “The decisions that you make in your life have consequences. I am a prosecutor. I represent the state of Iowa. If you are driving and you’re intoxicated, whether or not you want to [accept] your consequences, I will make sure that you do. My role is to protect society, and unfortunately, the victims of crimes. When you drink and you drive, that is a crime and you will be punished.”
Schoeberl explained that “vehicular homicide” in the state of Iowa is a Class B felony – one level below murder. “That’s 25 years in prison,” he said. “You have to serve 70 percent of that sentence before you are eligible for parole in the Department of Corrections. That should be an eye-opener.”
Students also heard from several community members who graciously shared personal experiences regarding car crashes and/or underage drinking and the affects that they have had on their own lives as well as the lives of their loved ones.
Shannon Schaeffer from the Midwest Mission in Cresco informed students that drinking and driving, doing drugs and driving, and now, texting and driving have changed lives forever.
“If you put a substance into your body, and if you drink and drive or do drugs and drive, you’ve lowered your inhibitions,” she said. “You lose your ability to function like you normally do, so you get distracted. I know many people who have lost loved ones, and they were the cause of the accident. They have to live with the guilt of that for the rest of their lives.”
The guest panel also included: Marcie Klomp and her brother Jon Henry, Gene Koschmeder, Tyler Darland, and Jen Kimber.
“People tell you all the time not to drink, but this activity shows you what can happen if you choose to drink or text and get behind the wheel,” said Kimber, of Prevention 5 Coalition in Howard County. “Kids who start drinking underage are seven times more likely to be in an alcohol related crash than those who do not.”
That said, Kimber also noted some positive news: Every year fewer youth are drinking alcohol.
“For everyone in this room,” she added, “you all have someone or something you care about – another person, band, choir or your future goals. If you choose to drink and get behind the wheel, you need to be ready and willing to give all that up, and more. In our nation, on average, someone is killed by a drunk driver every 45 minutes, and drunk driving is responsible for about one in every three deaths…My challenge to you is to take this all seriously. All of this work was done to educate you on what can happen and to help you be safe.”
Special thanks to all who made the program possible: The Guest Panel, Cresco Fire Department, Cresco Police Department, Crestwood High School, Howard County Sheriff’s Office, Lindstrom Funeral Homes, Iowa State Patrol, Prevention 5 Coalition, Regional Health Services of Howard County, as well as Trish Hartman, David Gosch and Chris Rogne.