Eyes on the road
FARMER’S KORNER – For many high school students, prom night is a time to pull out the stops and throw caution to the wind. It’s the one night of the year that most kids have permission to stay out late and party with their friends.Concern about what can happen before and after the annual spring dance prompted a group of local medical and emergency professionals to present a program about the effects of driving while distracted to an all-school assembly Wednesday morning at Summit High.Although driving while under the influence of alcohol and drugs can often lead to problems, distraction and inattention can be just as dangerous, trauma nurse SallyAnn Bluhm told the crowded auditorium.”Loud music, cell phones, iPods, friends in the car. Most people are guilty of distracted driving,” she said. Driver inexperience, she went on to say, is a major factor in motor vehicle accidents.
The assembly, presented by the Summit County chapter of Think First, a national injury prevention initiative locally funded by the Summit Foundation, provided a graphic and personal look at what can happen when young people experience lapses in judgment.All eyes were on former Eagle Valley High School student Travis Hansbarger as he related the story of the car accident in 2003 that killed his best friend and left him in a coma for nearly three months. A senior at the time, he and his buddy had been smoking marijuana all day in preparation for that night’s homecoming dance. After being thrown several hundred feet from the jeep, the teenager required emergency surgery at Vail Valley Medical Center before being transported by helicopter to a trauma center in Denver.Three years and countless hours of rehabilitation later, Hansbarger said he came to the assembly to encourage students to do what they can to avoid what happened to him.”I lost everything I had because of one night,” he said. “You have brains. Use them.”
Hansbarger’s personal story added power to the message conveyed by a short motor vehicle accident re-enactment presented by Think First volunteers. After seeing a video of a simulated crash involving teenagers using a cell phone while driving, the assembled students watched intently as three of their classmates, representing accident victims, were wheeled on stage on real stretchers by actual emergency personnel. The first student had no pulse and was pronounced dead by Dr. Bernie Riberdy, a local emergency physician. The second victim, restrained on a back board and played by Chelsea Seegers, kept saying she had no feeling from the neck down and was diagnosed with a broken neck. Jeff Burke, in his role as the uninjured driver, was led away in handcuffs, charged with vehicular homicide.The significance of the presentation was not lost on attending students.”It’s definitely one of those things I’ll think about,” junior Whitney Henceroth said. “I’ll definitely be more careful driving.”
Taking the time to stop and think about potentially dangerous situations was the overall focus of the program. Sometimes tragedy is the result of one small bad decision.”You don’t go to a party expecting not to return,” Summit High principal Jim Hesse said.Riberdy said his experience as a trauma physician has given him both a respect for the dangers of driving and a profound appreciation of life. “It’s a moment in time that changes everybody’s life,” he said, referring to major trauma. “I think all of us can say, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.'”
Wednesday’s assembly was part of a series of activities at the high school scheduled around prom week to promote good judgment and responsible behavior. Upcoming events include programs on coping with peer pressure, situations that can lead to date rape and alcohol poisoning.Survivor Hansbarger said speaking at the assembly was entirely worth it for him.”If I can just help one person in this entire audience, that’s all that matters,” he said.
Harriet Hamilton can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13624, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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