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Crash: School and emergency services give students a powerful lesson on the consequences of careless driving

Hudson High School's annual junior prom came and went without local emergency services responding to a grisly automobile accident.

It's impossible to say whether the exercise held three days before Saturday night's prom prevented any crashes, but it certainly may have influenced decisions made by teen-age drivers and passengers.

Local emergency services, businesses and the high school teamed up to give a powerful demonstration on the consequences of drunken and careless driving.

It began with police, fire and ambulance personnel responding to a mock head-on collision in a parking lot of St. Patrick Catholic Church.

The entire student body at school that day walked across Vine Street and sat on the grassy banks surrounding the parking lot to watch the scene unfold.

Tarps were removed from two mangled automobiles provided by Alwin's Northside Service, revealing "bloodied" teen-agers inside the cars, as well as a girl who had been "thrown" from one of the vehicles.

High school actors Christin Casa De Calvo and Alissa Walsh happened upon the scene. Casa De Calvo, wearing a portable mic connected to a public address system, made an anguished 911 call, bringing Hudson police officer Mark Crimmins (the school liaison officer) to the scene.

Soon St. Croix EMS paramedics and Hudson firefighters arrived and began the lengthy process of removing the injured from the cars and putting them in ambulances.

Mike Solberg, a former Hudson emergency medical technician, narrated the action for the students, explaining what the emergency responders were doing and why.

Firefighters used specialized equipment to cut the roofs from the cars and free victims trapped inside. EMS workers attended to the injured, putting the most badly hurt on ambulances first.

Passenger Jacci Zappa was loaded into an ambulance and taken to the high school, where she was transferred into a Life Link medical helicopter from St. Paul that landed on the practice football field.

Officer Crimmins put driver Billy Scholz through the paces of a sobriety test, and then arrested him, after determining that Scholz was intoxicated.

A sheet was placed over the body of Rikki McKernan when it was determined that she was DOA - dead on arrival. Her high heel shoes protruded from under the covering.

St. Croix County Medical Examiner Casey Swetlik arrived to officially pronounce McKernan dead and photograph the scene. With the help of firefighters, Swetlik put McKernan in a body bag and loaded her into a hearse from O'Connell's Family Funeral home.

"Last Kiss," the 1960s ballad popularized by Ricky Nelson, played over the public address system as the hearse drove away.

"...The screamin' tires, the busting glass, the painful scream that I heard last. Oh where oh where could my baby be, the Lord took her away from me, she's gone to heaven so I've got to be good, so I can see my baby when I leave this world."

Following the students' lunch breaks, the setting changed to a hospital emergency room, and then a funeral, both staged in the high school gym.

Mike Binkley, anchor of the KSTP-TV (Channel 5) morning and midday news programs, set the scene at the hospital, where a medical team would attempt to keep Zappa alive.

"Some of you would be rushing over there (to the hospital) just praying, praying that she's going to be OK. And it will be in the next few minutes that the friends will get the news that they dreaded," Binkley said.

"How do you think your friends and family members would react on a night like this?" he asked. "Have you been thinking about that?"

The team from Hudson Hospital's Emergency Room led by Drs. Paul McGinnis and Brad Hernandez gave a believable performance of the effort they would have made to save Zappa's life had her trauma been real.

Close to 1,000 students in the bleachers watched solemnly as the lines on the monitors went flat and the doctors and nurses began removing their sterile gloves and smocks.

They were witness to Drs. McGinnis and Hernandez informing Zappa's mother, Donna Zastrow, and her sister, Katie, that Zappa was dead. They watched as mother and sister were led into the ER to touch her still warm body.

Then came the funeral eulogies. Zappa's mother said Jacci had been an awesome light in her life - curious, tenacious, passionate and funny. Her laughter was contagious.

Finally, student pallbearers wheeled Zappa's casket out a south door of the gym.

"Imagine. A pretty young girl in her prom dress gone just like that," Binkley said.

The program concluded with a panel of simulation participants, joined by St. Croix County District Attorney Eric Johnson and Hudson Municipal Judge Sue Gherty, answering students' questions.

Hudson High School Principal Ed Lucas, who spearheaded the crash simulation, said he believes it made an impression on many of the students.

"It really hit home with a number of our students in getting them to think about making positive choices when it comes to drinking and driving - or riding with people who are under the influence," he said.

The idea for the first mock crash, held three years ago, came out of discussions by a parent advisory group about prom safety. Lucas recalls that Lori Poppe, then a Hudson Hospital employee, had heard about mock crashes at other schools and suggested that the Hudson community hold one, too.

"This is just an outstanding example of community support for the high school," Lucas said, calling attention to the volunteers, agencies and businesses that donated time and services to make it happen.

St. Croix EMS Chief Eric Christensen said the paramedics and EMTs weren't paid to participate, and some took time off from their regular jobs to do so. The same held true for members of the Hudson Fire Department.

"Everything was volunteered. The only thing we had to pay for was some lunches," Lucas said.

A $3,000 grant from Al Duchnowski's Hudson Insurance Agency, given to the high school Students Against Destructive Decisions organization, was the principle source of funding for the project.

LifeLink flew the helicopter here free of charge, which was a sizeable donation in itself.

The high school students who played crash victims - McKernan, Zappa, Scholz, Ashley Cook, Matt Hudson, Skyler Allen, Kate Curran and Mike D'Andrea - reported to the city ambulance garage at 6:30 a.m. to have their fake wounds applied.

Dana Krahenbuhl, the school district's alcohol and other drug abuse prevention coordinator, said students were intrigued by the number of emergency personnel involved in responding to a car accident with injuries.

"A lot of the little details that nobody was aware of" caught the students' attention, Krahenbuhl said.

"They also were interested in how long it took. They assumed that you pull somebody out of the car and away you go. They didn't realize that you stabilize (the victims) in the car."

Krahenbuhl said the upperclassmen she had talked to thought it was a powerful presentation. The younger students who aren't driving yet couldn't relate to it as well, she said.

Assistant Principal Dennis Toll was disappointed about the 200 students he said were absent from school that day.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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