Thornapple Kellogg School District

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Staged Drunk Driving Crash Teaches Important Life Lessons

 But when McCrath's voice cracked and wavered while she read an emotional goodbye letter to her parents before her mock funeral, there were more than a few sniffles and tears as students became overwhelmed by the staged reality.

"This is hard. But it's something they will always remember," said Student Council advisor Lyndsey Fischer of the mock event staged just two days before the high school prom and weeks before graduation.

The event drove home a very hard life lesson about the impacts of drunk or distracted driving. Although completely staged, it was made to be as real as possible. Real cars were crashed and flipped at the scene. Firefighters and EMT's considered it a training event for real crashes. The police, minister, funeral directors, attorney and judge were all people who actually worked in those  professions with many having children in TK Schools.

McCrath lay outside a car that was flipped over. EMT's and firefighters checked for a pulse then walked away, returning later to cover her with a blanket. Others worked to free other victims still trapped inside wrecked vehicles.

TK senior Heather Price said even though she knew the whole scene was staged, it felt real and she couldn't believe how terrified she was being trapped in the vehicle.  "I didn't know what was going on. It was terrifying," she said.

 Classmate Riley Borrink said the event made him feel terrible. "I don't want to see anyone do this. Please, don't drink and drive or text and drive. It's not worth it."

Senior Jacob Gipe played the role of the drunk driver who was handcuffed and led away by police. He later faced Judge Michael Schipper who sentenced Gipe to 10 to 15 years in prison for drunk driving causing a death. Schipper said it's a realistic sentence for someone in that situation.

"It definitely didn't feel good at all," said Gipe. "To think about being in jail that long is scary.  And the guilt I felt even though it wasn't real, I still felt the guilt. It's not worth it. A drink or a text is not worth it."

Attorney Tim VerHey played the role of the prosecutor during the mock sentencing. "We talk about this as being a fatal accident, but it was no accident. What Mr. Gipe did was perfectly predictable. Everyone could see what could happen. It was no accident. He killed someone and that's called homicide," said VerHey arguing for a maximum sentence.

Judge Schipper agreed. "This absolutely wasn't an accident. It could have been prevented," he said.

There was also a funeral for McCrath with Pastor Dan Beyer of Gun Lake Community Church performing the ceremony and talking about the tragic loss of Hannah while he stood next to a coffin. Photos of Hanna as a young girl, with her brother, at Disney with her family, and surrounded by high school friends, flashed on a large screen above the casket.

 "I didn't drink and drive. So why am I the one to die?" McCrath asked as she said goodbye to her parents.

"This was really scary. Don't text and drive or drink and drive. It's not worth it. It can't be worth it," McCrath told her classmates.

Senior Michelle Lindemulder said it was a difficult role to play. "The hardest part was hearing Hannah's voice talking to her parents. Call your parents. Call someone. There are so many other options, just stay safe," she said.

Jerry Niles and Karen Borrink of Thornapple Township Emergency Services told students they knew it was hard to witness the scenes that afternoon. "We do this for you guys. We want to make you think about it. You heard Hannah's voice. I bet every single one of you had goosebumps. I know I did," Niles said.

"It's not nice knowing a few moments could change someone's life and your own life forever. It's just not worth it," said Jared Peabody.

High school principal Tony Petersen said the scene played out that afternoon was every principal's worst nightmare. "I don't sleep a wink on prom night. I worry about every single one of you and I want every single one of you to be safe," he said. "Make good choices and be safe."