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One tough lesson

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By Calen McKinney

 

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Fourteen high school students died last week.

While their "death" lasted just for a few hours, the impact of the time without those classmates might linger with the students forever.

Campbellsville High School students participated in Ghost Out last Wednesday, in which the grim reaper selected 12 of their classmates to die for the day.

Taylor County High School students saw a mock crash on Thursday, in which two students died and two others were injured. One of the students was driving drunk and caused the crash.

Local organizations Campbellsville/Taylor County EMS, Campbellsville/Taylor County Anti-Drug Coalition, Campbellsville Fire & Rescue, Taylor Regional Hospital, Air Evac Lifeteam, Little Caesars and Creations Sportswear sponsored the events, which were planned for this time of year because prom, graduation and project graduation are in the next few weeks.

The grim reaper walked the halls at CHS on Wednesday morning, going in classroom after classroom. After looking around each room, he pointed to a student who would die for the day.

Wednesday afternoon, the 12 students participated in a ceremony in which the obituaries they had written for themselves were read and their bodies were covered with white sheets.

Charlotte Sullivan, whose daughter, Jade, died in a car crash in May 2012, spoke to the group. She said Jade wasn't wearing her seat belt when she died.

Sullivan said Jade and her boyfriend, Justin Atwood, who also died in the crash, often drove fast.

"She thought she had the world by the horns," Sullivan said.

Though she hasn't asked how fast Atwood was driving at the time of the crash, Sullivan said she knows he had to have been speeding. He struck a car head-on and the two died almost instantly.

"Now, for whatever reason, God took her that night," Sullivan said.

Sullivan asked the CHS students to always buckle up and pay attention to their driving.

"Because it can happen," she said. "God gives and God takes away."

Sullivan said she talks to her daughter every day, and not a day goes by that she doesn't cry.

"Because I miss her," she said. "Because she was my baby."

Jade died three weeks before she would have graduated from high school, Sullivan said, and she often wonders where Jade would have gone to college, what kind of career she would have had and if she would have been a mother.

"But I know that she graduated that night and went to heaven to be with the Lord," Sullivan said. "So I ask you, be safe and don't be sorry."

Frieda Cox's daughter, Karen, died in a car crash in 1995. Cox told the students that she remembers the night vividly. She went to Taylor Regional Hospital and begged Karen to wake up and talk to her.

"She looked like she was only sleeping," Cox said. "Two beautiful dark-haired girls died ... doing what they're not supposed to be doing."

On Thursday, TCHS students saw what can happen when a drunk driver gets behind the wheel. The mock crash began with students hearing an emergency dispatcher relay details about the crash via police radio. Seconds later, fire and rescue, EMS and a sheriff's deputy arrived at the scene.

Marshall Steele portrayed the drunk driver, and after failing field sobriety tests, was arrested. Hayden McCubbin, who was Steele's passenger, died in the crash, as did Cianna Walters, a passenger in a car driven by Makenzie Hughes.

Hughes's parents, Miriam and Ricardo, arrived at the scene and were distraught after seeing their daughter in the vehicle.

Firefighters, EMTs and paramedics worked to free Hughes, who was trapped inside. After she was removed and flown via Air Evac helicopter to a hospital, Walters and Hayden were taken from their vehicles and placed in body bags.

Jason Rainwater, an EMT and volunteer firefighter who is involved with planning the events, said he believes students should attend Ghost Out and the mock crash to know that crashes can happen at any time.

"The kids didn't know it could happen to them," he said.

After Sullivan and Atwood died, Rainwater said, efforts to help students realize the danger of driving heightened.

"If you have a drink, get a driver," he said. "Take that extra second to put your seat belt on."

Rainwater said he believes the students really focused on the message they were being sent.

Having Hughes's parents at the scene, he said, and them behaving how they really would if their daughter had been in a crash, really opened the students' eyes to the consequences of drunk driving.

Rainwater said work is already under way for next year's events.

Campbellsville Fire & Rescue Chief Kyle Smith said someone dies in a car crash every 30 minutes.

"Those statistics are way too high," he said.

And that's the objective of Ghost Out and the mock crash, he said, to stress just how important it is to be careful while driving.

"This is especially important for young people," he said. "What we did [at the mock crash] was as real as we could possibly make it."

Smith said his employees and the EMS personnel are dedicated to that, so students will see the consequences of poor choices.

"It's an eye opener for them, and it should be," he said.

CHS Principal Kirby Smith agrees, and said the fire and EMS personnel using CHS and TCHS students makes Ghost Out and the mock crash even more real.

TCHS Assistant Principal DiAnne Harris said she believes the mock crash is good to raise awareness.

"I think it's good for our kids to see it," she said. "I think it hits home for some of them."

Harris said she is pleased that her students took the mock crash seriously and paid attention to what they were seeing.

For the past five years, Smith said, he has read his school's announcements and always ends with, "Buckle up. Drive safe and have a great day."

At Ghost Out, he repeated that to his students and told him he truly means it.

"I think the message was really loud and clear if the correct choices aren't made," he said. "A bad choice can lead to a consequence that is fatal."