SHERIDAN — One hundred and ninety students attended freshman impact training at Buffalo High School Thursday, an event intended to create “responsible ripples” by demonstrating the potential negative impacts of common dangerous behaviors.
In addition to Buffalo High School students, freshmen from Big Horn, Story, Arvada-Clearmont, Tongue River and Kaycee high schools also attended this year, the third year Buffalo has hosted the event.
This year, more than 100 volunteers participated and members of the Wyoming Department of Transportation and Wyoming Highway Patrol attended as they are considering implementing the program statewide, according to a press release from the school.
During the morning session, students rotated between learning stations hosted by volunteers. Classes on drug abuse and cyberbullying were held inside the school.
Outside, students looked on as members of Johnson County Fire District 1 cut up a car and removed the roof with power tools, demonstrating the scale and difficulty of extracting passengers.
Members of Buffalo Emergency Medical Services taught students the ABC’s of first aid — airways, breathing, circulation — and how to protect a person with a cervical spine injury while loading a stretcher.
At another station called “Battle of the Belts,” students raced around a car, each entering all of the seats one by one and buckling their seatbelts. The event, which took the teams as little as 56 seconds, is intended to reinforce just how little time it takes to buckle up, which can save their lives.
Nearby, students rode “The Seatbelt Convincer,” which simulates a 5 mph crash. In front of a mangled police car, David Motsick recounted a head-on collision on the night of Sept. 27, 2016, leaving him with a traumatic brain injury that prevents him from continuing his service with the Wyoming Highway Patrol.
“That’s OK,” Motsick said. “I have a daughter who’s a senior, I get to see her graduate. That’s more important.”
The crash had an impact speed of 163 miles per hour and ignited a fireball when the other driver’s engine completely dislodged from the chassis. The second driver — who wasn’t wearing his seatbelt — was ejected and killed instantly. The last thing Motsick remembers is headlights coming toward him.
“Wear your belts folks; I’m living proof that they work,” Motsick said. “Safety mechanisms work.”
Inside the agriculture building, surgeon Blaine Ruby shared examples of the impact of gun and vehicle accidents from the operating room and his own life.
Buffalo High School graduates BriAnne Kovar and Arianna Prescher shared the ways that their lives have been impacted by suicide to end the stigma surrounding mental health.
Kovar shared the story of her boyfriend’s suicide at the age of 23, which left her alone with two young children.
Kovar said she will never forget the day of December 15, 2015, when she received a call of only three words.
“It ran through my head like a broken record — ‘He is gone, he is gone,’” Kovar said.
“Instead of wrapping gifts and planning a celebration, we were planning a funeral.”
Kovar told students she had to find the words to write an obituary, pick songs to play at the funeral and sift through hundreds of poems to try to express his life at the funeral.
Kovar said she still cries every time she hears one of the songs they chose.
“The last few years have been a blur for my family,” Kovar told students. “Please remember, it’s OK not to be OK.”
Arianna Prescher attempted her first suicide during the second semester of her freshman year at Buffalo High School.
When she entered high school and began to feel alone and guilty, she turned to alcohol to forget, which “led to pills and then to all sorts of other things,” Prescher said, and she doesn’t fully remember that period of her life.
On the night of the attempt, her youth pastor and his wife had come over to her house, and when they left her parents asked her how she could be so selfish and told her to deal with it.
“I was so enwrapped in the feeling of guilt and failure because I felt like I wasn’t who I thought I should be,” Prescher said.
Prescher survived a second attempt during her junior year after her boyfriend took his own life. Later, she contemplated a third attempt but called her grandmother instead.
She decided to visit her grandmother in Alaska and found out she was pregnant three days after arriving.
Since then, she started working to “peel the mask off” that she kept up for others to hide her struggles.
“I’m thankful because I get to live the life my depression told me wasn’t worth it, and that fear is a liar,” she said.
After lunch, a skit in the auditorium began with a high school party at a campsite by a lake where students consumed alcohol and marijuana. When a girl who had tried a vape pen became ill, the students decided to leave the lake and drive home. The driver responded to a text message from her parents and crashed the car near the high school.
A 911 call played of the driver telling dispatchers they had crashed the vehicle. The call full of screams was cut off.
Students then walked outside to the parking lot to find the scene of the wreck, with student-actors in torn clothes and fake blood and bits of glass in their wounds screaming and mourning their friends. Students filed past the scene and then looked on from above the stairs as a helicopter landed for a medical evacuation and first responders loaded patients into an ambulance and helicopter and arrested the driver.
Next, a student killed in the accident was loaded into a hearse, and students returned inside as “Taps” played.
Back in the auditorium, students witnessed the home visitation where officers broke the news of the student’s death to his parents, which was followed by a mock funeral.
The enactment ended with a sentencing hearing presided over by Johnson County District Judge William Edelman where parents and friends gave victim impact statements. At the end of the hearing, the driver was sentenced seven to 10 years in prison to be followed by 10 years of probation.
At the conclusion of the event, Edelman answered student questions about DUIs and other offenses he’s dealt with throughout his career, and the actors answered questions about their experiences portraying the characters.
“I just hope this sort of brought home to all of you how quickly your lives can turn and go horribly wrong,” Edelman said.
The slogan of Community Organized Resources for Educating our youth, which puts on the impact event, is “creating responsible ripples” which, however small, have the potential to save lives.
“If only we can stop one, that’s enough,” Motsick said.