Emergency services collaborate in drunken driving reenactment
The memorial slideshow for Ronan High School Principal Kevin Kenelty was short and poignant. The ending echo of a solemn Jason Aldean song blended with a chorus of sniffles and smattering of applause as the high school students sat rapt, staring at the coffin on the stage.
Then Lake County Sheriff’s Deputy Levi Reed came on the stage.
“What you saw here today was a reenactment, but I guarantee you that if it were the real thing you would not be applauding,” Reed said. “I’m glad you appreciate the hard work everybody put in, but I want you to reflect on your lives. I want you to think about your choices, because if you make the decision to drink and drive you could very well end up in this situation for real.”
Kenelty’s funeral was the final act of an elaborately staged emergency “Ghost Out” drunken driving response drill put on collaboratively by the sheriff’s office, Ronan Ambulance, Ronan Police Department, Ronan Volunteer Fire Department, Montana Highway Patrol, Tribal Police and Foster Funeral Home.
In the drill, high schoolers watched as emergency workers freed their classmates from a car that crashed into a van Kenelty was driving. In the reenactment the students were put into back braces and onto gurneys and driven away by the ambulance. Kenelty nursed a fake head wound and lay lifeless in the crashed van until emergency workers cut him out with the Jaws of Life. He remained motionless as officers checked his pulse, pronounced him dead, piled him into a blanket to remove his body, zipped him into a body bag and lifted him into a hearse. A funeral service and video put together by student Jade Gray followed.
“I don’t like it,” sophomore Siliye Pete said as she watched, dried tears on her cheeks. “It doesn’t make me feel good especially since my boyfriend was in (the wreck). As soon as I saw it I started crying. It was effective for me. If should be effective. If it’s not people are crazy.”
Kenelty hoped that the presentation would impact the students. After the presentation, he spoke about how he attended 33 student drunken driving funerals at his time at Poplar High School. The last funeral, of student Johnnie McClammy, was the only one he couldn’t bring himself to attend.
McClammy was on her way to becoming an all-state softball player when Kenelty spotted her smoking one day. Kenelty kicked McClammy off the team for smoking a day before the state-qualifying match.
“For a couple of months she was mad at me, but she came back into office to hand in her uniform and she thanked me,” Kenelty said. “She said, ‘You are the only one who cared about me enough to hold me accountable.’”
McClammy planned on joining the military, but one week after high school graduation and a day before she was set to ship out to her new life, McClammy drove into a ravine and died.
Three weeks after the accident McClammy’s mother brought Kenelty a beautiful quilt that reads: “We love you Mr. Kenelty. Class of 2012.”
“The words that haunt me forever is that she was too embarrassed to give it to me herself because she felt she had let me down, and she thought there would always be time,” Kenelty said.
Kenelty asked his students to make wise choices so he doesn’t have to see them in a casket because of drunken driving.
“More than anything, this was to make you think,” Kenelty said. “If it saves one person, it was well worth it in my book.”