ELLSWORTH— It was a gruesome scene on the morning of May 2 at Ellsworth High School: mangled cars and bloodied bodies splayed on the pavement in the bright spring sun. A crowd of solemn students looked on as emergency crews rushed to free limbs, lift victims onto stretchers and lay sheets over the “dead.”
The scene, part of the “Every 15 Minutes” program, is intended to be shocking, but that isn’t the only message.
“It is not our goal to simply upset people,” Police Chief Glenn Moshier wrote in a press release. The department hopes that the event will make students “more aware of how devastating substance abuse-related fatalities can be upon families, a school and a community.”
The program, which originated in Canada, is spread over two days. It is entirely supported through donations and volunteer time. On the first day, selected students are removed from classroom, returning later to their classes wearing black T-shirts with their faces painted white. They are not allowed to speak to classmates or staff for the day, and are meant to symbolize the victims of alcohol-related crashes (the program’s organizers say there is one victim every 15 minutes).
Parents are notified and the selected students spend the night in an undisclosed location. That same day, a fatal crash is simulated on the school grounds.
In Ellsworth on May 2, two passengers were declared dead at the scene, two were injured and one of the drivers was arrested for operating under the influence. The parents of one of the dead were escorted by Moshier to the boy’s body as it was lifted into the back of a hearse.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Moshier said softly as the boy’s weeping mother bent over his body.
A “funeral” was held on May 3 at Ellsworth High School for the deceased students. Multimedia design students from Hancock County Technical Center filmed the crash scene and the mock trial at Hancock County Court, footage that was then compiled into a video shown at the funeral.
Students and parents alike wept very real tears as the parents of the two children “killed” in the crash shared their reflections. One student read a poem, the Rev. Robert Maddocks gave eulogies, and Moshier reflected on the program, its intent and usefulness.
Moshier said the department has long debated the effectiveness of the event, particularly, he said, when they run into students just months later who are involved alcohol-related driving incidents.
“Did they not get it? Did they not understand the consequences?” asked Moshier, who added that the department had concluded “if it reaches just one person, it’s worth it.”
While the program is focused on drinking and driving, Moshier wrote, “students need to understand that senseless tragedies happen every day for other driving issues, such as speeding, failure to use a seat belt, texting while driving, or just being a passenger in a motor vehicle.”
Lorri Fortier and her daughter, Darci, also shared their story. Darci, a 2005 graduate of Ellsworth High School, was gravely injured in an alcohol-related side-by-side utility vehicle accident in 2013. She suffered a traumatic brain injury and was in a coma for 10 days. Her daughter will be in “rehab for life,” said Lorri, has lost her sense of smell and taste, and has short-term memory loss as well as extremely limited speech.
Darci signed from her wheelchair to the captive students. Her mother translated. “She told you to be safe.”