Mock Crash Makes Point With Students
By: Alex Scofield
Sandwich High School 1992 graduate Robert T. Abbott pulled a shard of glass out of his pocket and showed it to 600 SHS upperclassmen yesterday morning. It is a piece of the side-view mirror of the car Mr. Abbott’s friend Jonathan P. Colwick was driving when he died in a drunk-driving crash in January 1997.
“I’ve kept it with me ever since,” Mr. Abbott said. “That’s all I have left of my friend.”
Mr. Colwick, a SHS ’93 graduate, was a senior at Roger Williams University at the time of the crash. Mr. Abbott said he thinks about his friend every day. He still stops by Mr. Colwick’s gravestone on occasion, and said he used to do so all the time. “Seeing your best friend crash, when there’s nothing you can do about it, is something that sticks with you forever.”
Mr. Abbott, who now lives in Marstons Mills, came back to his alma mater yesterday after SHS hosted a mock drunk-driving car crash, all part of an event designed to raise awareness of the dangers of drunk driving. Mr. Abbott told the students, who gathered outside behind the school, about the events that led up to his friend’s fatal crash. Mr. Abbott said he was concerned his friend had been drinking too much, and so chose to follow Mr. Colwick home, driving his own car.
“[I wanted to] let them know it can happen to anybody—a jock, a drama student,” Mr. Abbott said. “No one’s exempt from making a bad decision, and the impact it has on everyone.”
“I was surprised how quiet everyone was,” said SHS junior Abby E. Weber. Just before Mr. Abbott spoke, Abby had played the role of a passenger in the mock crash.
Yesterday’s “crash” was more than a year in the making. SHS relaunched a school chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions (formerly Students Against Drunk Driving) last year, and planned to hold the mock accident during prom season last year. However, the group called off plans after reconsidering the emotional impact it could have on students following the deaths of SHS students Richard M. Bellis and Matthew S. Sculos, who both would have been seniors this year.
“It would have made people angry,” said Susan Coutinho, a staff adviser for the group, along with Christine L. Carroll.
Senior Scott C. McGowan agreed that students were more receptive a year later.
“This year, I feel the reality has kind of set in,” Scott said.
Reality was the goal of the students, staff, and community members who took part in setting up the mock crash scene. Two days before the SHS prom, the crash was staged with real cars, real police officers arresting Scott, real paramedics using the Jaws of Life to extricate students from the wreck, and a real hearse from Nickerson-Bourne Funeral Home that took junior Bradford N. Howes away from the scene
“It takes a community to put this together,” Ms. Coutinho said. “The fire department and police department and the funeral home have been on board with us for completing this important task.”
Senior Scott C. McGowan played the drunk driver role. A Sandwich police officer handcuffed him “pretty tight,” Scott said. “I got arrested, and I felt the luxury of the back of the cruiser.”
As uncomfortable as it was being handcuffed, Scott said that what hit him the hardest was seeing his real-life girlfriend, who played a passenger in the wrecked car, with realistic-looking injuries.
“When I saw my girlfriend going by in a stretcher …it was definitely a tough moment, even though it was staged,” Scott said.
Shortly after the event concluded, several of the participants said they were pleased with the way it had gone. Several agreed that Mr. Abbott’s story made an impact.
“I thought it came together really well,” said senior Sara M. Cannilla, a SADD member. “It was pretty weird seeing it happen like that.”
“I feel like we did a really good job of putting this all together,” agreed SHS freshman Amara E. MacCloud.
Ms. Coutinho and Ms. Carroll said they expected the crash will become a regular event, possibly every other year for upperclassmen at a time of year when the prom, graduation, and summer are approaching.
“If we can change just one kid,” said senior Brianna J. Brunelli, “that would just make everything worth it.”
Brianna, who played an unconscious crash victim, added that she hopes students will think twice before making a bad decision like driving drunk.
“Keep it in the back of your mind,” Brianna said. “We don’t need to lose anyone else with 18 days of high school left.”
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