In an instant, everything changed for the occupants of two vehicles in the parking lot of Mark Twain High School on Wednesday, May 10.

In an instant, everything changed for the occupants of two vehicles in the parking lot of Mark Twain High School on Wednesday, May 10.

Six students took part in a realistic car crash scenario, which involved a drunk driver and passenger in an SUV and a driver and three passengers in a 1980s Ford Mustang. After the 9-1-1 call, students from sixth grade through seniors saw the life-changing consequences of drinking and driving or distracted driving and the coordinated responses from area emergency responders. The students left with powerful lessons about what can happen in a crash — including seeing a fellow student portraying a passenger who was dead on arrival — and emergency responders got a chance for additional cooperative training while showing the crowd how they perform their duties.

Center Fire Chief Pete Hilgenbrinck said he hoped that the mock accident would help the students stop to think about what they’re doing — such as going to a party and driving — and to always be prepared for an emergency that could arise. Hilgenbrinck said all the Mark Twain High School students who participated did an excellent job performing, playing their roles exactly the same way that Hilgenbrinck and other emergency responders would see when they arrived at the scene of an actual crash.

“I think that’s the biggest outcome of what we have here for our students — to be able to see an actual mock accident, so that in the future, hopefully they’ll take this home and make a good realization of what can really happen out there.”

Junior Aidan Epperson played the role of one of the injured passengers inside the Mustang. He wore a GoPro camera to show live footage of the wreck and the aftermath. He said the realism of the experience made him think about how a wreck caused by distracted driving or drunk driving could happen to anyone.

“You’re sitting in a car, you’re covered in blood,” Epperson said. “It’s starts kind of weighing in on you, like this could actually happen to me.”

Junior Amy Graves and sophomore Lauren Williams echoed the feelings as they performed their roles.

“It was an eye-opener,” Graves said.

“It definitely felt real,” Williams said.

Graves said the realism overwhelmed her for a moment when she saw Williams after the crash.

“When I looked in your eyes, I started crying,” Graves said.

Junior Corbin Eckler recalled a great deal of activity going on, including being pulled out of the car and laid on a board. His role was of the passenger who didn’t survive.

“I think it’s good to have kids see what actually happens and just the impact that happens when you drink and drive or text and drive, and what those people go through when they have an accident,” he said.

Fellow junior Jason Brumbaugh agreed that the lessons came through loud and clear.

During the mock crash, he ended up in the cargo area, with his ankle and knee stuck under the rear hatch.

“It was a realization, whenever they opened the trunk up, and the light hit my eyes,” he said. “I was kind of squinting, and I saw a couple of the first responders and firefighters standing there with their gear on, asking me what’s going on, how I was doing, just checking me over. It just made everything almost real, like I was actually in an accident and I was stuck.”

The participants agreed they hoped that everyone would leave with the message about making good decisions and attentive driving practices. The powerful educational tool came together through the support of Eric Joiner, who is bringing the mock crash to Palmyra next week.

Student council president Maddie Liter said the planning process began in 2016. Joiner provided council members an outline for the morning. She commended him for coordinating the event and all of the local emergency responders who made the scenario a success. Liter witnessed how the crash affected students watching the event unfold.

“I know a lot of them, especially the younger kids, it really gave them an insight of what distracted driving could do before they started driving,” she said. “And it really impacted our student body to see one of our students deceased with the sheet over them on the ground.”

The students watching the scenario were struck by the powerful images and sounds of emergency response following the collision, learning how they respond and work together as a team.

Junior Hayli Ogle said she had never seen how firefighters responded to an emergency, and she found it educational and interesting to watch.

For sixth grader Brityn Schutte, the presentation left a powerful reminder: “Be more careful on the road.”

Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper Fuller said the display offered an excellent training opportunity for responders from Center, New London, Palmyra, Perry and the surrounding areas as they worked together on the scene. Fuller said that the students received a great deal of education too, including the importance of wearing a seatbelt.

“I think it hits them pretty deep, just to see their friends laying on the ground... it does have an impact on them, the way they drive and the safety decisions they make when they’re driving,” he said.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at