Mock accident addresses young drivers

WELLSBURG – For many years mock accidents have been staged to warn high school students of the dangers of drunk driving, but there’s much more they should think about when they put their key in the ignition, said Bernadette Varlas, a Follansbee firefighter and dispatcher with the Brooke County Emergency 911 Center.

Varlas, who coordinated a mock accident Thursday at Brooke High School, said teens can be injured or killed while driving to or from school, work or home as well as the prom or a graduation party if they are answering their cell phones, sending text messages or exceeding the speed limit.

“The main point of this is they should stop and think whenever they do anything behind the wheel,” she said, adding, “If you have to think about it twice, you probably shouldn’t do it. That could save your life.”

Brooke County Sheriff’s Deputy Larry Palmer, who serves as prevention resource officer at the school, said timing for the exercise was good because the school’s prom is this weekend.

But he applauded Varlas for taking a broader approach to the scenario.

A sheriff’s deputy could be seen conducting a field sobriety test with Caroline Drake of Follansbee, one of the students playing drivers in the two-vehicle collision staged in the parking lot of the school’s wellness center.

But the juniors and seniors who gathered outside to watch also were advised a number of factors could have contributed to the accident.

Drake was one of eight drama students at the school recruited by Varlas to play accident victims, many of whom were seen loaded onto stretchers and into ambulances or a medical helicopter by staff with the Brooke County Ambulance Service and STAT MedEvac.

Also participating were fire departments from Follansbee, Wellsburg, Franklin Community and Hooverson Heights, who used their equipment to extricate “victims” from the two vehicles, as well as the Brooke County Office of Emergency Management and Wellsburg Police.

Varlas and other personnel remained at the school afterward to answer questions from students.

Two of the students, Anthony Hood of Wellsburg and Alex Burdick of Colliers, lay very still on the pavement after crews covered them with white sheets. To underscore the fact that many teens are killed in auto accidents each year, a hearse from Chambers and James Funeral Home arrived for the two “victims.”

Another business, Ballato’s Salvage Yard, supplied the two vehicles.

Another drama student, Hunter Helms of Follansbee, applied makeup to her classmates to simulate gashes, cuts and other wounds. Also playing roles in the mock accident were Max Hardt of Bethany, Caitlin Cuomo of Follansbee, Caleb Isinghood of Wellsburg and Kristian Slavic of Colliers.

Helms, who aspires to be a movie makeup artist one day, had fun creating the makeup effects, which included a piece of glass that appeared to be protruding from Hood’s head, but took the message of the exercise very seriously.

Asked if using cell phones while driving or speeding are common problems, Helms said, “It’s a really big problem. I think this will open their eyes (about) what to do and what not to do.”