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Mock crash brings real emotion

Mon, May 26th, 2014
Posted in Harmony Features

Melody Roller weeps over her daughter Bethany Zrucky during the Fillmore-Central S.A.D.D. mock crash on Friday, May 16, 2014. Photo by Barb Jeffers

A routine fire drill sent hundreds of Fillmore-Central students to the Harmony Community Center in Harmony, Minn. on Friday, May 16, 2014 and what the students found there was anything but routine.

As the student body and staff made their way to the community center at approximately 10:44 a.m. they came upon the scene of a mock crash involving fellow students Kaitlynn Aug, Lee Dyreson, Danielle Zinsmaster, and Bethany Zrucky who are all leaders of Fillmore-Central’s Students Against Destructive Decisions (S.A.D.D.) organization.

Horrific screams from Danielle Zinsmaster could be heard before the students reached the parking lot where the mock crash was taking place. Zinsmaster pleaded, “Get me out of here I can’t feel my legs!” as she was trapped in the front passenger seat of the vehicle.

Lee Dyreson, the driver, was out of the vehicle wandering around dazed and confused while Bethany Zrucky lay unresponsive hanging out of the broken side window and Kaitlynn Aug, who was thrown from the vehicle, lay unresponsive several feet from the van.

While waiting for the responders to arrive Brenda Pohlman with Fillmore County Public Health announced the scenario to the crowd that had gathered. Four teens from Fillmore-Central School were at a spring party. They had been smoking marijuana and were headed to another site to smoke additional marijuana. The male teen (Lee Dyreson) drove his mom’s van and was elected to drive as he seemed okay.

During the drive, they decided to take a Snapchat to share with friends. This is when the van ran off the road, struck a telephone pole, and rolled several times landing upright. In the scenario the crash occurred at 10:44 p.m. The driver was wearing a seat belt and had minor injuries. Another teen (Danielle Zinsmaster) is seriously injured. One teen (Kaitlynn Aug) was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the vehicle. She died on impact. A second teen (Bethany Zrucky) is partially ejected from the vehicle and is also deceased.

Sirens could be heard coming to the scene at 10:48 a.m. with many area responders arriving to aid in the mock crash. These responders included members of the Fillmore County Sheriff’s Department as well as the Minnesota State Patrol some of whom included Deputy Betts, Deputy Miner, and Trooper Christianson. Also responding were the Harmony Ambulance, the Harmony Fire Department, and Gary and Gladys Peterson who are investigators with the Fillmore County Coroner’s Office. Mayo One also landed on scene to simulate flying Danielle Zinsmaster to the hospital.

As some of the parents of the crash victims arrived they cried out in anguish. Janet Christianson followed what she thought would be her natural reaction and tried to run to her daughter Danielle but was held back by a responder. Melody Roller, Bethany’s mom, and Janet Christianson stood together in shock as the responders tried to remove their girls from the van. The jaws of life had to be used and the roof removed to extricate Danielle Zinsmaster.

Melody Roller ran to her daughter and dropped to her knees after Bethany was freed from the vehicle and laid on the ground unresponsive. She was devastated when told by Gladys Peterson that Bethany was deceased.

For Janet Christianson and her husband, Trooper Troy Christianson, the experience of seeing their daughter in this scenario hit very close to home as Troy deals with crashes such as this in his line of work and Janet sees what Troy goes through at night when he gets home. Janet described it as a “double whammy” for her not only watching her husband work but also having their daughter involved in the mock crash. Janet stated, “If we can stop one accident from happening, it’s worth it.”

Vicki Nelson who is the S.A.D.D. advisor as well as a special education teacher and family support worker for Fillmore-Central Schools hoped that the mock crash shows students that the decisions they make today can have a lasting effect on not only their own lives but others’ as well.

The students involved in the mock crash kept it a secret from other students so they would have a more natural reaction and not be prepared for it. Danielle Zinsmaster stated she had “been nervous all week” preparing for the mock crash and said it was difficult to keep the secret from friends but wanted it to be a surprise.

Lee Dyerson stated that the group was trying to get something across to other students that they are not invincible and the decisions they make affect those who care about them as well. Kaitlynn Aug hoped that the mock crash would show students that the decisions they make now will follow them their whole lives and Bethany wants the student body to know that the group is concerned for their well-being.

Brenda Pohlman gave many frightening statistics as the mock crash played out including the fact that Fillmore County has one of the highest rates of distracted driving deaths and serious injuries in Minnesota with an average of 1 to 4 fatal crashes each year. Run-off-the-road crashes are very common in Fillmore County due to terrain and excessive speeding.

Other shocking statistics include the fact that traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for youth due to driver inexperience and risk-taking. Teens crash risk increases by more than 44 percent the more teen passengers are added to a vehicle. The “Not A Drop” law makes it illegal for a person under age 21 to consume alcohol.

Every serious injury or fatal crash is reviewed by the local Toward Zero Deaths coalition which consists of law enforcement, engineers, emergency services, and educators who want to assure these events do not happen.

Brenda Pohlman stated that the reason the group chose to use a Snapchat and marijuana use scenario is due to the fact that Facebook isn’t “cool” anymore so kids are using Snapchat and with the legalization of marijuana in states such as Colorado, it seems to be more socially accepted and the group wanted to show the dangers of using marijuana while driving. Marijuana gives the illusion of having sharper senses when in reality it makes it more difficult to make quick decisions, judge distances, or speed.

With prom and graduation happening this time of year it seems an ideal time to remind students to makes the right choices to be sure everyone gets home from the celebrations safely.

In the afternoon there was an assembly in the gymnasium to recap the mock crash and to recognize everyone involved. Responders were recognized with much deserved awards of appreciation and parents of the student actors who were able to attend spoke from the heart to their children about the experience and how much their child means to them.

Trooper Troy Christianson spoke with emotion in his voice stating that the crash, even though mock, was the worst he had ever been to because his daughter was involved. He went on to say that people need to “make the right choices” and if a driver is unsafe to ride with get out of the car. He noted that in most crashes the passengers are killed not the driver.

Responders and participants then left the stage and visited with the attendees answering any questions and information was offered on distracted driving. A Distracted Driving Pledge was available which students were encouraged to sign. Austin Bahler, 17, said the mock crash was “pretty serious” and signed the pledge. Austin signed the pledge because “I will never text and drive,” he stated.

Sydnie Huffman, a senior at Fillmore-Central, stated after watching the mock crash that it was a “real eye-opener” and seeing people she has known all these years in that condition hit her the most.

Gavin Wangen with the Harmony Fire Department said that Fillmore-Central’s mock crash was a very well-planned event adding, “It was one of the best ones I’ve seen - it almost seemed real.” One of the Mayo One pilots even commented to the Harmony Fire Department and complimented the group on their effort. Gavin said, “This is not to scare kids it’s to get the message out there that it is real and this stuff happens.”

Local businesses also supported the mock crash by donating to the event. Harmony Foods and the Harmony House donated breakfast refreshments. Pizzas for lunch following the mock crash were donated by the Village Square of Harmony, and cookies offered at the assembly were donated by the Sweet Stop and Sandwich Shoppe of Preston.

Fillmore-Central S.A.D.D. has approximately 100 members and along with their advisor Vicki Nelson are passionate about students making the right decisions now not only to keep themselves and others safe but to also protect their future as choices made now can have an impact on the lives ahead of them.

To view photos of the mock crash visit County Journal.

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