Members of the Harmony Fire Department brace the telephone pole upon which a mini van sat during a mock crash on Friday, May 16, at the Harmony Community Center. A sheet is draped over the body of Fillmore Central junior Bethany Zrucky. BRETTA GRABAU/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
Members of the Harmony Fire Department brace the telephone pole upon which a mini van sat during a mock crash on Friday, May 16, at the Harmony Community Center. A sheet is draped over the body of Fillmore Central junior Bethany Zrucky. BRETTA GRABAU/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
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No one, especially a parent, wants to hear their child has been in an accident. What can be worse is when they hear the accident could have been prevented by more thoughtful and responsible choices.

At the same time, a student's worst nightmare may be learning a classmate or friend has been in a fatal accident.

To make sure these scenarios are less likely to happen, several students at Fillmore Central High School organized a sobering event for their fellow young people to witness - a mock crash.

Fillmore Central's Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) leaders, Danielle Zinsmaster, Lee Dyreson, Kaitlynn Aug and Bethany Zrucky, wanted to drive home the reality of how one choice can make the difference between life and death.

The three juniors and one senior worked with Fillmore County Public Health educator Brenda Pohlman, the Harmony Fire Department and Ambulance and local law enforcement to stage the crash in the parking lot of the Harmony Community Center on Friday, May 16.

The scene was staged as the students played the roles of a group of friends driving from one spring party to another after 10:30 at night. At the first party, each of them had smoked marijuana and were heading to the other party to smoke some more. Since Dyreson seemed to be fine, he was elected to drive his mother's van. As they drove between 65 to 70 miles per hour to the next party, they decided to take a Snap Chat photo. This was the choice that would change lives.

As they took the photo, the van ran off the road and crashed into a telephone pole. Since Dyreson was wearing a seatbelt, he walked away, stunned with minor injuries. Zinsmaster was seriously injured. Aug was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown from the car, landing about 25 feet away. Zrucky was partially ejected from the vehicle. Aug and Zrucky were both killed in the scenario.

These four students staged the crash in order to make their fellow students more aware of the dangers of marijuana use and driving.

"We want to send a message to the teens that using marijuana and distracted driving is bad. I don't think they really understand reality," Zinsmaster stated. "We have been hosting assemblies and bringing in the police to talk about these issues, but we are actually seeing the number of students doing this growing. It was time to take it to the next level."

And take it to the next level, they did. Back in September, the students talked about bringing a mock crash to the high school, but they had to fight to set it up.

"It has been a positive experience for us and we may be able to have one again four years from now," Zinsmaster commented.

Under the pretense that the school was having a fire drill, the high school students were not aware that they were about to experience the mock crash. As they walked to the community center as they are instructed to do in the case of a fire drill, the surprising scene began to unfold. The unsuspecting students came upon the crushed van on top of a telephone pole, bodies hanging out of the vehicle and thrown out. The grisly scene included "blood" coursing down the sides of the van.

Sirens blared and lights flashed as the first responders rushed to the scene. Three police cars and a state trooper reached the scene first. A little later, several members of the fire department arrived to stabilize the car and begin working on extracting the victims. Then the ambulance arrived to tend to the injured. The responders rushed to do their work, checking the wounded and questioning the driver.

Glass shattered as the firemen worked on cutting away the roof of the van. Mothers screamed for their children as they ran onto the scene after having heard about it via social media or the radio.

After removing one student from the van, the medical examiners arrived and pronounced her dead. The mother wailed her grief for her lost child. Firefighters struggled using the Jaws of Life to cut through the roof and peel it away, enabling the student to be removed from the van.

The air throbbed as Mayo One landed to provide aid and assist in transporting the injured student.

Many students were quietly fixated on the scene unfolding before them.

"We hope to send a message to everyone celebrating life and how valuable it is with this crash," said Aug.

"If we touch one person, we will be satisfied," Zinsmaster commented.

Months of preparation had gone into the crash, but the days before it were the most stressful and nerve wracking for the SADD leaders.

Zrucky's mother, Melody Roller participated in the crash. "This is really important," she said. "I hope the students realize how every choice can change lives and lead to a different future. Lives are precious."

Crashes do not only affect the families and friends of those in the accident, but they also impact those responding.

Janet Christianson, Zinsmaster's mother, related how her role in the crash is a double whammy.

"My husband is the trooper who responds to this crash. He has many sleepless nights after seeing something like this, and now he is doing this for Danielle."

Pohlman from Fillmore County Public Health, who has done many mock crashes before, explained the scenario to the students watching the scene unfold.

"This crash was focused mostly on marijuana and its use. It is harder to detect and gives you the illusion of having sharper senses when in reality it makes it more difficult to make quick decisions, judge distances or speed. Marijuana causes slow and disconnected thoughts, poor memory and paranoia."

The communities of Harmony and Preston have all supported the message sent through this mock crash. Harmony House, Harmony Foods, Village Square and the Sweet Shoppe all donated food and drink for those participating in the crash.

"It was good to see the community get together for a common purpose. It was an opportunity to show the students about how they are here to change our lives," SADD adviser Vicki Nelson related.

"We began working with the students around the end of March. The Harmony Fire Department and Ambulance were on board immediately," Pohlman stated.

Out of the entire state of Minnesota, Fillmore County has the worst driving record due to distracted driving, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, excessive speed and fatigue. According to Pohlman, 50 percent of those accidents involve no seatbelts.

A sad sense of reality came to Fillmore Central students that day, just not exactly in the way they may have expected. It was the organizers' hope that they took away a new realization away from that grisly scene, thankful that it was a staged one instead of a real accident scene.