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Ghost Out event drives home consequences of drunk, distracted driving

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RONAN – By 8:33 a.m. on Wednesday morning at the Ronan High School, Ronan Police officer Trevor Sheridan had notified his first class of a “fatality” from a mock crash that claimed the life of a fellow classmate caused by an alcohol-impaired driver. 

Officer Sheridan performed his unpleasant duty more than twenty times signifying the number of lives lost every day in the United States to drunk driving during an event called Ghost Out. 

Staged Ghost Out events help bring to light the consequences of drunk and distracted driving. 

As part of the Ghost Out activities, students who had “died” wore black T-shirts signifying their death as their obituaries were broadcast over the school’s computer systems. Local emergency agencies held a drunk driving crash simulation and after the reenactment, a mock memorial service was held.

Even though the focus and cause of the simulated crash was drunk driving, the goal was to raise awareness about overall safety behind the wheel.

“It’s very important to try and get the kids early,” Ronan Fire Chief Mark Clary said. “We are trying to get everybody to not drink and drive and to pay attention when you are driving.”

Lake County Sheriff Don Bell echoed the importance of the Ghost Out event, “I have been involved in five or six of the Ghost Outs in my 26 years here working law enforcement. I think it helps to get the people thinking about what could happen if they do things that put them in danger.”  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Treatment, automobile accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers.

Based on data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, almost 29 people in the United States die every day in an alcohol-impaired traffic accident and almost half a million people are injured or killed yearly in traffic accidents attributed to the combination of texting and driving. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates 1,017,808 drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics in 2016. The arrest rate works out to one arrest for about every 215 licensed drivers in the United States.

Sirens blaring, first responders from Ronan Police, Ronan Fire Rescue, Mission Valley Ambulance Services, Montana Highway Patrol, and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office arrived to the simulated wreck quickly and were met by a grisly scene. Two cars had collided, one subcompact car had smashed head-on into a small pick-up truck in the Ronan High School parking lot. 

Half an hour later, Ronan High School students witnessed the ghastly aftermath unfold in front of them as emergency personnel used the “Jaws of Life” to extricate multiple victims from both severely wrecked vehicles, watched as officers placed a sheet over a fellow student’s limp body, observed a crash victim being placed in a helicopter to be airlifted with life-threatening injuries, while law enforcement administered a field sobriety test, handcuffed the suspected drunk driver and placed him in the back of a squad car to be transported to jail.

The students then reconvened in the Ronan Performing Arts Center where they watched a power point obituary about the victims of the crash and viewed real images of crashes caused by alcohol-impaired-drivers in Lake County.

The day concluded with shared life experiences of personal tragedy from Principal Kevin Kenelty, AD Lucky Larson and senior class adviser Heather Gray. Kenelty spoke about losing a student at a school he worked at previously to a drunk driver. Gray shared that she lost her mother in a car crash when her father fell asleep at the wheel.

“We don’t want to see these things for you. We want you to have fun and live life. You all have so much potential,” Gray said in closing. “So please take this to heart, protect each other, protect yourself and let your parents love you for as long as they can.”

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