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MURRAY — Teenagers at Murray High School received a harsh reality check about the consequences of distracted driving.
As part of a mock car crash exercise at the high school's parking lot Friday morning, students gathered around the yellow tape and watched first responders use the Jaws of Life to cut the roof off a grey sedan to extract one of their classmates, a student actor among several from the school's drama club asked to participate.
Nearby, another student actor cried as she performed chest compressions to try to "save" the life of a friend who had been thrown out of the car and was lying on the pavement in a pool of stage blood. When Murray police officer Brad Astin arrived to check her pulse, he announced on his police radio she was dead, followed by a firefighter placing a white sheet over her body.
Meanwhile, paramedics loaded the student who had been pulled from the mangled car into an Intermountain Life Flight helicopter to be transported to the hospital.
The scene depicted the aftermath of a distracted driver who had crashed her car into another car full of students, leading to multiple injuries, two fatalities and an arrest.
The scenario-based exercise was a chance for police, firefighters, medical staff and paramedics to practice how they'd handle the situation.
Among the agencies involved were Intermountain Medical Center's Level 1 trauma team and its pediatric and women's trauma committee, Murray police and fire departments, and the Utah Highway Patrol.
Murray High senior Dylan Short, who led the student involvement aspect of the demonstration, said he sees distracted driving occur "all the time" among his friends and when he's driving on the street.
"It's something that needs to be addressed, and it's not always talked about,” he said. “One thing that we wanted to make clear is that it impacts everyone.”
Short, who was covered in stage blood, said it was important to have a death in each of the vehicles in the mock crash, because “it’s more impactful” for young people to realize that distracted driving can kill a passenger in another car or even one of their own passengers.
“It's just second nature to pull out your phone to answer a text at a stoplight or answer a phone call. Even that split-second of a distraction can have terrible repercussions," he said.
The most sobering moment of the exercise came when students were shown a video, created by students, of the student who had been extracted from the crashed car in critical condition arriving at the hospital and dying after doctor's attempts to save his life.
Rylee Bunnell, 18, a senior at the school, said it takes one second to walk across a stage to get your diploma, to see your family, to fall in love — and to avoid texting while driving.
“How do you look at someone’s loved one in the eye and tell them that you only looked down for a second?” she asked her peers in a speech in the high school’s auditorium after the exercise. “It only takes a second to become a statistic.”
Brad Morris, physician assistant from the trauma service of Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, said the exercise was meant to focus on distracted driving and young, new drivers because “that’s where the statistics tell the truth.”
Simple things like putting a phone away or wearing a seat belt can prevent him having to deliver devastating news to parents of young people.
"We hate to see that happen," he said. "We think that these statistics are 100 percent preventable. If we can take events like this to educate and make real, they can see that there are real consequences to the choices we make."
Bringing in multiple agencies for the scenario helped add realness to the exercise, he said.
Loss of life is not the only serious consequence, he noted, but also "loss of life related to the loss of freedoms" that can come from the major legal consequences of distracted driving.
How do you look at someone’s loved one in the eye and tell them that you only looked down for a second? It only takes a second to become a statistic.
Morris, as a father of young drivers himself, said it's important to have the exercise after the Memorial Day weekend, the beginning of what has been deemed the "100 Deadliest Days," when the majority of Utah road fatalities occur.
After the exercise, 18-year-old Murray High senior Jordan Searle said everyone’s driving can improve if they put their phones down.
“It’s scary,” he said. “When a song comes on that you don’t like and you look down to change it — you don’t realize the consequences that can come from that choice. You can easily take someone’s life, take your own life or seriously hurt someone."
He recommended people pull over or park if the matter can't wait.
“You can wait (to pick up the phone) and stay safe and keep other people safe, too,” he said.