PENNSBURG, New Jersey- A mock crash caused by a drunken driver and a seemingly all-too-real funeral has caused some students at Upper Perkiomen High School to rethink their plans for parties after tonight’s prom.
“It made people look at themselves,” Rachael Hilgar, 17, said. “When you see parents break down, you realize . . .”
“Every 30 Minutes,” a program presented Monday and Tuesday at the school, documented the aftermath of a drunken-driving crash. It was a special program for a special time of year: prom season, when young drivers and underage drinking can make a deadly combination.
Grieving parents read aloud letters they had written to their “dead” or “injured” children, many dissolving into tears. Audience members, sitting among caskets, cried as they watched a video showing that tragedies begin – not end – with a crash.
In the school cafeteria yesterday, Hilgar and some of her classmates said “Every 30 Minutes” had caused some students to reconsider how many parties they will attend after the prom. Some also said they might limit their alcohol consumption or avoid it altogether.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to drive,” Lauren Lukens, 16, said.
Drinking and driving was a problem at last year’s prom, said Derek Zinck, 17, who played a victim in the video. While being involved in the two-day program will not dissuade him from going out after the prom, he will not be driving after drinking or riding with anyone who has been drinking.
“It’s not even an option anymore,” he said. “All my friends feel the same way.”
“I think if anyone showed up at the prom after [drinking and driving], they would be shunned.”
Upper Perkiomen’s chapter of Students Against Driving Drunk was disbanded several years ago because of lack of interest. But drinking and driving has become a hot topic again at the school, students said.
“Some of my friends [going to the prom] drink, and I asked them what they were going to do. They said they’re definitely not going to drive,” Mike Stevens, 15, said.
“It’s easier to talk about [drinking and driving] with your friends” since the program, said Scott O’Connor, 16.
The mock funeral was emotionally exhausting for students who had not been warned beforehand, Upper Perkiomen teacher Vicki Thren said.
For some, the more graphic funeral props, such as the caskets that where wheeled down the aisles of the auditorium, went too far to prove a point.
“I think it was too much,” said Tim Wheatley, 18, who lost a friend last year in a drunken-driving accident. “Honestly, I really wish they didn’t bring in the three caskets.”
But Collin Keyser, 17, who is close friends with one of the “victims,” said the macabre nature of the program made it particularly effective.
“The only real skeptics were my parents,” Keyser said. “They thought it was morbid at first.”
Hallie Terzopolis, 15, who portrayed a character left “paralyzed” by the accident, said she initially had had reservations because the program was being held the week of the prom.
“I thought, ‘That’s cruel,’ ” she said. But with graduation parties soon to follow, “it was the perfect time for it.”
Terzopolis said she and other “victims” had been enjoying near-celebrity status since the event. Students have come up to them in the hallways to give them hugs or congratulate them.
“It’s almost like we’re famous,” said her sister, Nikki Terzopolis, who also participated in the service