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SKHS planning to have a tragedy next week

Normally tragedies can't be predicted, but South Kitsap Fire and Rescue knows it will respond to a fatal accident next Wednesday morning.

Unlike most fatal accidents, however, this one will be pretend.

Beginning at 8 a.m. May 28, SKFR and the Port Orchard Police Department will begin blocking off Mitchell Avenue in front of South Kitsap High School to prepare for the school's annual Mock DUI Crash.

Battalion Chief Cliff Wilson, who retired last year from SKFR, said the school began staging such crashes every year as teaching exercises following a particularly traumatic summer in 1997.

That year, Wilson said, five students, most of them SKHS students at the time, were killed in four separate accidents.

Wilson said the groups have staged a crash "just about every year since," though small changes have been made each time.

"They used to do it in the football field, but then moved it to the parking lot," said Cherie Thalheimer, the drug and alcohol counselor at SKHS. "But last year they moved in down to the street to make it more realistic."

Another change over the years that made the presentation more realistic was to have students from the high school's drama ensemble populate the scene as prom attendees who fall victim to impaired driving.

"It's a pretty emotional day — there's a lot of crying, a lot of tears," Thalheimer said, explaining that seeing and hearing their fellow students in distress has a much greater impact on the teens than just being given another lecture by an adult.

"They know these kids and can recognize their voices on the 911 tapes (the actors make with the help of CenCom), so they can imagine this happening and realize it could be one of their friends," she said.

To keep the effect strong, Thalheimer said the school now only invites seniors to the presentation, while in the past all the students were invited.

"But if a student sees it every year, by the time it's their senior year, the impact is lessened," she said.

Since this year’s event will be two days before the school's prom, Thalheimer said she hoped the scene would encourage students to think twice before engaging in dangerous behaviors.

"Our goal is that the students won't drink and drive, and won't ride with anyone who has been drinking. We want them to know there are other options for them, and hopefully they'll take it to heart," she said.

The choreographed event will being at 8 a.m. when the POPD begins blocking off the street and the students begin preparing the cars and other parts of the scene.

Around 9 a.m. the aid units and other responding vehicles will begin arriving, and after the performance and other presentations, the scene should be over by 10 a.m.

"We would really like people to know about this ahead of time, because normally once it begins the school is flooded with calls," Thalheimer said.

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