By Bill Kirk
---- — Andover High School juniors and seniors kicked off graduation season and end-of-school-year activities last week with a sobering message about staying safe.
Last Friday afternoon, about 920 juniors and seniors gathered for a mandatory, pre-prom information session at the Collins Center highlighted by a gruesome mock drunken-driving accident and a reminder that a Breathalyzer awaited prom-goers raising suspicion.
The message seemed to have struck home. By Monday, Principal Chris Lord reported Saturday night’s Junior/Senior Prom at the Hilton Hotel in Danvers had gone off without any problems. See page 3 for photos.
“Happily, there were no incidents either during or after the prom when the kids got back in town,” Lord said. “We are all delighted our kids seem to be making the right decisions and we hope it continues all the way beyond graduation.”
Saturday’s prom wasn’t the first time students had faced the threat of a Breathalyzer. School officials this year started having Breathalyzer tests administered at all school dances. The prom was no exception.
At the pre-prom information session, the juniors and seniors were reminded that they would be subject to a Breathalyzer test at any time before, during or after the prom.
Anyone failing the test would be disciplined, including possibly being prohibited from attending graduation and/or being barred from participating in senior week.
The students were also given a brief lecture on etiquette, such as how to shake hands in the receiving line and other do’s and don’ts of formal occasions.
Then, they all filed out and stood on the hillside overlooking the small parking lot outside the Collins Center, where they witnessed the outcome of a mock car accident.
About 40 actors and actresses from drama teacher Susan Choquette’s improvisation classes served as accident victims as well as witnesses to the scene. A professional actor, J.T. Turner, from Ipswich, played an on-the-scene reporter, chronicling events over a loudspeaker as they unfolded.
One girl was lying on the pavement surrounded by a huge puddle of blood. Other students were inside the two cars, which were positioned in a way to depict they were involved in a head-on crash.
Lt. John Pathiakis served as the incident commander for police. Two cruisers and a police SUV rushed into the parking lot, sirens blaring, and parked in a perimeter around the accident scene. Fire trucks and an ambulance arrived soon after, sirens also going.
As police administered a sobriety test to the teen driver of one of the vehicles, EMTs administered first aid to the wounded and covered the girl lying on the ground with a sheet as if to show she was deceased. Later, she was taken away in a hearse provided by the Burke-Magliozzi Funeral Home.
Holly Breen and Candace McVeigh, advisers to Students Against Destructive Decisions, put on the event with help from a number of local businesses and community agencies, including the town police and fire departments as well as Elm Street Auto.
“We hope they understand the dangers of drinking and driving,” Breen said. “It’s also speed-related. A girl gets taken away in a hearse, too. We’re trying to keep them safe in prom and graduation seasons. They can see what happens if they don’t make the best decisions.”
As they watched, several students said they thought it was realistic and effective.
“Hopefully, this scares people enough not to drink and drive,” 18-year-old senior Charles Heseltine said.
Another student added, “This is a message we need to learn.”
After the accident scene was cleared, students filed back into the Collins Center for a follow-up assembly, during which the principal had to give students the bad news — that one of their classmates had died in a drunken-driving accident.
Lord hopes he doesn’t have to deliver the same news for real this season.
“This is a sad announcement to make for a high school community,” he said.