By Kristen Miller
DASSEL-COKATO, MN - When the bloody scene was revealed, Dassel-Cokato High School students were able to see the brutal effects drinking and driving can have when a good time turns deadly during the May 22 mock crash.
Actor Jon Thorson lay lifeless on the car driven by actor James Frickstad.
According to the story told by Tim Benoit, Frickstad had too much vodka at an after-prom party and got into a car with fellow actors Tynelle Marschall, Taylor Mankenberg, and Thorson.
Frickstad then struck a vehicle carrying actors Bryant Beckermann, Anna Fitzer, and Sabrina Lawrence. Beckermann was declared dead by the Wright County Deputy Coroner.
Unfortunately, the mock crash was delayed due to an actual, real-life accident that occurred west of the high school at the same time.
This was just another reminder for students that accidents happen anytime, anywhere. There were only minor injuries and the accident was cleared.
When the mock crash resumed, first responders from both Dassel and Cokato worked together to extricate both Marschall and Beckermann from the battered vehicles. Thorson was flown from the scene on Life Link.
The event was sponsored by the Cokato Dassel Rotary and partnered with numerous other organizations including Safe Communities of Wright County and Meeker County Public Health, especially Laura Lindeman.
Kelly Babekuhl, Rotarian and chair of the event, said she hopes this event was not only a reminder to never drink and drive, but also to have an appreciation for the first-responders, who must act swiftly when the choices people make aren’t the right ones.
Following the mock crash, students then moved from the Performing Arts Center parking lot, where the scene took place, into the gymnasium, where they watched a video of Frickstad being taken to jail.
Brooks Helget began the presentation by saying that the mock crash event came just in time for Memorial Day weekend, kicking off the 100 deadliest days on the road.
Wright County Chief Deputy Joe Hagerty spoke about how one who has been arrested or has injured another by drinking and driving wishes they could take those two seconds back and they didn’t get in the car to drive.
He explained to the students the “Not a Drop” law. According to the Minnesota State Statute (Sec. 169A.33), anyone under the age of 21 who has consumed any amount of alcohol before getting behind the wheel is in violation of this law. Charges for violation of the law are similar to a DWI. It is a misdemeanor for the first offense.
Hagerty told the true story of a person underage who had been partying the weekend of Easter in the Albertville/St. Michael area. This person struck another vehicle, killing one person and severely injuring the other.
“[The driver] will never get those two seconds back,” Hagerty said.
He also talked about the importance of wearing a seat belt and the new law that will take effect Wednesday, July 1 which states that passengers in a vehicle can be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt.
Then, the high school audience heard from someone many of them know well Patty Sterner, the assistant track and field coach and paraeducator for the FOCUS program.
Sterner spoke about losing her stepdaughter, Amanda, Oct. 30, 2007 from alcohol poisoning. She had a blood alcohol level of .46.
Though she never thought this was something that could happen to her, Sterner reminded the students that it can happen to them or someone they know.
She told the students that it’s OK to walk away from alcohol and peer pressure.
Sterner also asked the students to protect those they know by not letting someone just “pass out” after a night of drinking, but call an ambulance because, like Amanda, one doesn’t know if that person will ever wake up.
At the end of the program. students returned to their homerooms and were asked to comment on the mock crash event.
Many students expressed their sadness and concerns in the evaluations, according to Helget.
Some of the student comments included, “It makes you think twice about drinking and driving,” “I realize this could happen to anyone,” and “[The mock crash] worked well to teach us to not drink and drive . . . keep doing mock crashes!”
High School Principal Dean Jennissen said he appreciated the combined efforts of officials in Wright and Meeker counties as well as Babekuhl, Helget, deputy Drew Sherber, and dean of students Steven Schauberger.
“I don’t think we could ever over-educate students about the dangers of risky choices,” Jennissen said.
“We have to put information in front of our students that engages them in critical thinking.
“In the end, they will be the ones making the choices. We hope they choose wisely,” he said.
Helget added saying, “Our hope is that students walked away with an idea of what a crash looks like, how people might respond, the extent rescue workers go to save lives and help the injured, and how one poor decision can affect so many people.”
A real-life accident during a mock crash
Within seconds of being dispatched to the Dassel-Cokato High School for the mock crash, Cokato Fire Department was dispatched to a real accident along Highway 12 and Rosewood Avenue near the high school.
Waiting to be dispatched to the mock at the St. John’s Education Center near Rhoades Avenue was the Dassel Fire Department and the Litchfield Gold Cross Ambulance.
A two-car accident occurred right in front of their eyes, according to Dassel Fire Chief Dale Grochow.
This is something the first responders had planned for during the making of the mock crash event.
If any of the participants needed to respond to a real-life crash during the mock crash, a universal word would be said, and the emergency responders would discontinue the mock crash.
The word was “snowball.”
“We used the word snowball that day,” Grochow said.
At 12:58 p.m. a juvenile from Cokato driving a 1997 Buick stopped on Highway 12 waiting to make a left hand turn onto Rhoades Avenue and was rear ended, according to the Minnesota State Patrol.
The stopped vehicle was struck by 90-year-old Ruby Voight of Cokato in a 2004 Buick.
Both parties were transferred to the local hospital with non-life threatening injuries.