Unveiling the Raw Reality: Gripping Drunk Driving Reenactment Brings Harsh Truths to Life
In 2013, the then-principal of Clifton High School Michael McGinley mentioned to the municipal drug alliance, Clifton Against Substance Abuse (CASA) that his previous high school in Fort Lee staged a drunk driving reenactment just before Prom Season. CASA President Tom Whittles thought it was a super idea and set the ball rolling, contacting others in the community to bring awareness and persuade students to reconsider getting behind the wheel of a car if they’d been drinking. Each year, except for the Covid-shortened year of 2020, CASA, Clifton High School, the Clifton Police Department, Clifton Fire Department, Bizub Quinlan Funeral Home, and a New Jersey family devastated by a drunk driver put an event together for the Senior Class designed to make them aware of the consequences one bad decision can cause.
The morning started with an assembly led by Bill Streiter, a father whose two young adult children, Billy and Ashley Streiter, were killed by a drunk driver. His speech, accompanied by photos on a video screen of his children, was stunning in its simplicity. At the end, the students and adults were openly emotional, quietly crying.
The students then went outside to the area near the gym where they saw the aftermath of a simulated fatal crash. In this year’s scenario, a teen girl was driving with another friend sitting in the car and she “hit” a third friend, who was killed on impact. The assembled students heard and saw first responder vehicles approach, witnessed the police give the driver field sobriety tests, firefighters use the Jaws of Life to extricate the passenger, and then pronounce the hit pedestrian “dead.” The student’s body was covered, put in a body bag, and taken away by a hearse. Stage makeup was used to give the students a bloody appearance and bring further realism to the reenactment.
Finally, the students headed back to the auditorium which doubled as a courtroom. Clifton Municipal Judge the Honorable James P. Sieradzki presided over a mock hearing: charges were read as the driver stood, dressed in an orange prisoner’s shirt, and pleaded guilty to drunk driving charges, aggravated manslaughter, and vehicular homicide. Local actor Chris D’Amato, playing the role of the dead child’s father, delivered a very emotional moment. He spoke of the times they’d shared together and of the things the father would never get to experience – school graduations, family gatherings, seeing his son marry and start a family of his own. The other victim, seen in a wheelchair and heavily bandaged then gave his victim statement, equally impassioned, sad and angry about all that one act had taken from him.
“Sentencing” was passed and was as harsh as possible, involving a lengthy prison sentence, fines, and loss of future driving privileges. As the event concluded with the driver being taken away in shackles, the assembled students murmured quietly, hopefully having learned a lesson about the tragic consequences of that one poor decision.
Anna Boscia portrayed the driver, Aden Diaz the hit pedestrian, and Jose Suarez Gonzalez the passenger, all chosen by Joel Baker from the Guidance Department. Full video of the rescue and the courtroom scenes will be on the CASA Facebook page. The damaged vehicle will be in front of the school gym; left as a solemn reminder to the students of the dangers of impaired driving and its lifelong consequences.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about one in four teen car crashes involve an underage drinking driver. Every day, about 800 people in the US are injured in a drunk-driving crash and another 29 die as a result of drunk driving. That’s one person every 50 minutes. SAMHSA offers this guide for talking to your teen about the dangers of impaired driving.