Covered in “blood,” students were sprawled across the stage Friday at the Patricia Lindley Performing Arts Center after a violent “car crash” due to impaired and distracted driving.
The Grim Reaper, portrayed by Dave Knapp of the South Lorain County Ambulance District, eerily patrolled the scene as Wellington fire chief Mike Wetherbee and other emergency responders announced some of the students had died from their “injuries.”
Don’t worry — it was all an act aimed at spreading a very serious message.
Grim Reaper assemblies are held every three or four years for Wellington High School and McCormick Middle School students to illustrate the dangers of bad decisions behind the wheel. This year’s event was organized by WHS’ Students Against Destructive Decisions club.
After the skit and a student-produced film showing a series of bad decisions leading up to the fake crash, Knapp emotionally went over a years-old ambulance call that sticks with him to this day, all the more poignant the day before the WHS prom.
“There’s a call I’ll always remember,” said Knapp. “It must’ve been 20 years ago now. A kid was at a family function and had just gotten his license. He thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I could just go home and get my sweater?’ When you get your license, you want to be out there driving on your own. It was only three miles of back roads for this young man to get home, so his parents said OK. That man failed to stop at an intersection, another car hit him, and he’s no longer with us. He had the ability to live as long as I have, or older, just like you. But he was gone in a second.”
Jay Eastman of Norton-Eastman Funeral Home in Wellington took the stage next and was candid with students about the grim details of preparing a car crash victim’s body for memorial services.
“The decisions you all make have an impact on everyone you love,” he said. “I’ve seen everything you just saw on this stage. I have stood over someone and picked the glass out of their face with a pair of tweezers. I’ve sewn huge lacerations back together. I’ve spent hours soaking a letterman jacket to get the blood stains out. They’re images that stay with you. I know each of these firefighters, EMTs, and other responders could tell you stories that keep them up at night.”
Meg Rosecrans, a WHS senior and president of the SADD club, closed the assembly.
“I was nervous about talking in front of everyone today,” she said, “mostly because I’m covered in fake blood but it could be worse. We could’ve lost students or friends all because of a decision a drunk driver made. These cars are just cardboard. the drinks in the bottles were just water, and the blood and injuries are makeup. Every 15 minutes, someone dies in an alcohol-related collision. We organized this assembly to prevent anyone in this room from becoming a statistic.”
Afterward, she sat down to discuss why it’s so easy to feel invincible as a teen and young adult.
“A lot of that feeling comes from social media, movies, and television,” she said. “Most of the time, when someone gets hurt, they end up being saved. Seeing other people end up all right builds a sense of invincibility. You’re not, though. A lot of people don’t even think of consequences of actions leading up to prom. They’re just thinking of hair, makeup, and pictures.”
Knapp also said young people tend to dismiss the idea that anything bad could happen to them.
“You just don’t think about it,” he said. “You haven’t been to the funerals that become a regular occurrence as you get older. They don’t realize everything can be over in a moment. It’s hard to acknowledge your own mortality when you don’t have constant, personal reminders of it. This is a good group of kids here today and they put a lot of work into creating this.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.