Southern Lee students shown deadly results of drunk driving
The air crackled with a voice claiming to be sober enough to drive, followed shortly after by a dispatcher calling in an accident as sirens started up in the distance. When it was all said and done, two students were dead, four were hurt and one was arrested Tuesday afternoon at Southern Lee High School.
Luckily, it was all fake — part of a demonstration put on before the entire student body about the dangers and repercussions of drunk driving, organized by Southern Lee senior Grant Carter.
Carter, who is the son of Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter, said he came up with the idea partially to complete a class project and partially because he wanted his classmates to know the physical and psychological pain a DWI crash can bring.
Cpl. Timothy Bolduc of the N.C. Highway Patrol told the crowd he had been working in that job for more than two decades and had made too many visits to families informing them of a loved one's death. He begged the students not to make him do the same thing with their parents.
"I change a family in a matter of minutes," he said. "... I've done it more times than I care to remember."
Bolduc said he has a 17- and a 20-year old and has told them to call him if they need to be picked up from a party, rather than risk getting in a car with a possibly inebriated friend.
Brooke Rice, the teacher for whose class Carter did the project, said she couldn't remember any DUI deaths at Southern Lee, but that there have been a near-constant rate of other crash fatalities, many of which happen during the break that starts Thursday.
"There's always something that happens over Christmas," she said. "Every year, or at least almost every year, we've lost a kid. I don't know if it's just they're bored, have too much time on their hands, but every year, we've had a wreck and a death."
Hoping to stop that trend with the help of some of his dad's connections, Carter brought two smashed-up cars to the school's track, in which six students — four in the SUV and two in the sedan — were slumped over, covered in fake blood and pretending to be unconscious or worse. Several local fire departments responded to the "crash," as well as a helicopter from Carolina Air Care and personnel from Central Carolina Hospital, the Sanford Police Department, Lee County Sheriff's Office and North Carolina Highway Patrol.
Carter said he convinced some kids from the popular crowd to volunteer as victims so the message would resonate more widely.
"I chose a group that's always together, pretty well known around school, so it would kind of sink in a little more with everyone," he said.
After one girl and one boy were declared dead — with their bodies eerily covered by blankets while a student dressed as the Grim Reaper stood watch over them — police had the driver perform several field sobriety tests before putting him in handcuffs and leading him past the bodies of his "dead" friends and into the back of a car.
Although the scene was staged, Sgt. Jonathon Davis of the local Highway Patrol troop told the assembled students afterward that there's a good chance at least one of them will end up in such a situation if they don't make good decisions.
"You're in the backseat of a car, where the driver is drunk and driving too fast," he said. "Are you going to be the one who speaks up and says, 'Stop,' or calls 911? ... You're the only ones who can stop it. You've got to step up."
In North Carolina last year, Davis said, 360 people died in alcohol-related crashes. Under state law, drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes can be charged with a number of serious crimes, including second-degree murder. According to the N.C. Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission, such an offense is punishable by a minimum of nearly eight years in jail — considering no prior criminal record — but more realistically is presumed to be between 10 and 13 years.