This is the third year that Indiana State Police, Putnam County Sheriff's Department, Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter and staff, County Coroner Thomas Miller, local area responders and local schools have participated in a mock traffic disaster aimed at educating students to the realities of driving impaired.
"This is the just the beginning of the season with proms, graduations and summer where I end up seeing these people in my office," stated Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter.
"We've been doing this for three years now. We did Greencastle High School last year. This way every four years each class gets to see it. Kids don't realize the aftermath and absolute pain involved in an accident like this," added Bookwalter.
For more than 40 minutes, students watched emergency responders and police work the accident just as they would a real crash. It was real, right down the Putnam County Coroner Thomas Miller and Bittles and Hirt Funeral Home putting dead victims into body bags and taking them away from the scene.
After the mock accident students attended a presentation led by Indiana State Trooper Charlie Boller which included Bookwalter, Miller, Steve and Margo Thomas who lost their two daughters in an auto accident and a 21-year old newly released convict Kyle Cramer who is speaking to kids around the state with Boller.
State Trooper Boller led off the assembly telling students that this was a mock disaster and he introduced the students who played parts in the accident.
"This was not real. These guys get a do over," he said. "It's not as truly emotional because it's not real. We see these students again. When it's real there is no do over," claimed Boller.
He introduced Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter who told kids, "There are two people you don't want to meet up with and that is the coroner and me."
Bookwalter asked for a show of hands for how many students had driver's licenses. He explained that under the law it doesn't matter if you are not 18 years old, even if you are 16 you are prosecuted as an adult.
He walked through the legal process of those arrested for causing an accident by being impaired.
"You spend 48 hours being processed then you are put in with the general jail population. You gave a booking hearing and bond is set between $30,000-$50,000 in cash. If you don't have anyone with that kind of cash you can spend from six months to a year in jail waiting for your trial.
He explained that in the courtroom there is an "elephant" in the room and that is a dead body. He added that he usually gives a 5-12 year sentence.
"And," he added, "statistically speaking this county will see two young people die."
During his speech he talked about Putnam County youth who have died or been seriously injured as a result of drinking and driving, taking prescription or other illegal drugs or just driving too fast.
He flashed a montage of famous people who died from drug overdoses including Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe, Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith, Chris Farley, Brian Epstein and Elvis Presley.
Bookwalter spoke about the dangers of prescription drugs and brought that home with the recent death of a Greencastle student from prescription drugs.
Next on the agenda were Margo and Steve Thomas who lost their two teenage daughters, aged 16 and 13 in a terrible accident on January 10, 2002.
Margo Thomas told a very quiet student body, "When I became a mom, I felt love like I never dreamed of and I have felt pain I can't even describe. I don't know why it didn't kill me."
She went on to explain the how many people are affected by the death of a child.
"All of us think accidents happen to someone else," said Thomas.
She described going to see the car her daughters Jessie and Rachel were in at the time of the accident.
"I had to stop and look at it and really study it. I couldn't tell the front from the back. If I live to be 124 years old, I will never forget that car."
She pleaded with the assembly to be careful every single time they get behind the wheel.
"It's much more important to get someplace safely rather than arrive on time," she added.
"Every time you get in the car, think about the people who love you and how much it will hurt them to lose you," she said.
Margo Thomas ended her talk by telling students, "If I can say something and save one person, then maybe Jesse and Rachel's lost lives won't be a complete waste."
Kyle Cramer talked about his drug and alcohol use from the age of 8 years. He spoke of his football scholarship to college and his four-year-old son whose birthdays he missed by being incarcerated.
He explained how his mother lost three sons in a ten-day period. Right after his arrest for robbery, possession, breaking and entering, he was told one of his older brothers committed suicide while on drugs. A week later his second brother also committed suicide. Cramer couldn't even go to the funerals to hold his mother's hand. He was in jail.
After Cramer talked, Putnam County Coroner Thomas Miller showed slide after slide of cars and bodies killed and injured in Putnam County, many of them young people.
Thomas told the crowd, "Everybody has a mentor, a friend, teacher, grandfather. If you are thinking about doing something you aren't willing to tell your mentor about, then don't do it."
"Think about the consequences," he concluded.
Students didn't hesitate to comment after the assembly.
"It was pretty impressive. It would stink if it were real," stated 10th grader Bill Eaglin.
Autumn Alexander told the BannerGraphic she took it seriously. "I've been in a wreck and it's scary. It could be real and it could be one of us," she reported.
Miller reminded students at the end of his presentation, "This isn't about prom night or grad night. This is about tonight and ten years from now. Think before you do, and think about the consequences."