Mitchell Canavan "dies" in a hallway at Kenai Central High School on Wednesday with help from Adrianna Garcia.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
A memorial service for 24 Kenai Central High School students, killed in alcohol-related accidents, was held Wednesday afternoon at the school. While the deaths of those students might not have been real, the tears shed for them were.
“This is no joke. This is not a laughing matter. This is serious, and once it’s over, it’s over,” Kenai Police Investigator Kelly George said to the assembled Kenai student body.
George had just finished describing the scene of a vehicular accident he responded to on Christmas Day in 1995.
He was in his second year as a police officer and didn’t have enough seniority to get the day off. A 911 call came in about an accident involving four young men. The driver, who was determined to have been driving drunk, had taken a 25-mph turn at more than 80 mph and collided head-on with a pickup truck.
Above, "victim" Katie Foley works next to Adam DeMello in a calculus class Wednesday.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
George graphically described the accident scene; how he encountered the first body lying twisted and broken in the middle of the road; how the driver’s seat had been pushed into the right passenger’s seat; how one body was hanging half in and half out of the vehicle; and how the fourth victim was sitting in the middle of the back seat, staring straight ahead, his spinal cord severed.
“I didn’t even know there was a fifth guy there, until we cut the roof off,” George said.
Kenai students were participating in an “every 15 minutes” program, organized by Adrianna Garcia, a student at the school and the D.A.R.E. youth representative for Alaska.
Statistically, someone is killed by a drunk driver every 15 minutes. Every 15 minutes during the school day Wednesday, a student was pulled out of class. Their faces were painted a deathly gray, and they went through the rest of the day representing a victim of an alcohol-related accident.
With proms coming up around the central peninsula and graduation fast approaching, Kenai principal Alan Fields said Garcia had approached him about putting together an alcohol awareness program for the school.
“I wanted to do a program in my own community that would affect my classmates,” Garcia said.
“We’re trying to have an impact on students that might be influenced in a different direction, to try to influence them to make a better choice,” Fields said. Fields added that having the program organized by a fellow student, rather than a lecture from himself or George, gave it even more impact.
The emotional nature of the program -- students watch their classmates die -- does have an impact. George said he saw quite a few tears when a student was pronounced dead during the course of the day, and more than a few students lingered for some emotional hugs at the conclusion of the assembly.
“I definitely think this program has an impact on the thought process about drunk driving,” Garcia said.
And if seeing classmates die during the course of the day wasn’t sobering enough, George’s comments during the assembly struck home. The assembly began with a slideshow in memory of the victims, and the snickers and hoots heard during the slideshow were silenced when he began to speak.
“For some of you, it’s been emotional,” George said as he addressed the student body. “For some of you, you’ve mocked it ... but I guarantee you, if this were real, this would be a different experience. There would be no laughter.”
After George spoke, the students heard some of the day’s victims and their parents talk about heartache they can only imagine. Then, they heard from Kenai Mayor Pat Porter, who shared the real heartache she still feels. She said she wasn’t addressing the school as mayor, but as a person who had lost a loved one to a drunk driving accident.
“Today I have two sisters. I no longer have the brother that I loved,” Porter said. “I’m sure he never gave it a thought that having a few drinks with his friends would lead to the end of his life. ... It has been 28 years, and the pain has not gone away. I have wondered why, and that question has never been answered. He will never have a wife to love, he will never have children to raise, he will never have grandchildren to spoil.”
Before dismissing students for the day, Fields concluded the assembly by asking them to make positive choices as the school year winds down and celebrations wind up.
“The idea behind this is that you realize how important you are,” Fields said.
Will Morrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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