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Prom promise: Tough love brings lesson to WHS students

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Lives ended. Lives ruined. Bad things can happen in an instant when students decide to celebrate a spring break or a prom night by drinking and driving.

Waccamaw High School seniors watched as emergency, medical and law enforcement personnel responded to a reenactment of a fatal auto crash this week in the school’s parking lot. The scenario: Four students were involved in a head-on collision, resulting in one death. Vehicles provided by Buck and Carlo’s garage were staged nose-to-nose in a parking lot near the football field.

The exercise has traditionally been called “Prom Promise,” a means of getting high school students to pledge not to drink and drive on prom night. The staged accident left “survivors” in their prom gowns and formal wear bloody and shaken.

“If that was actually real,” said Alexis Welch, “I know I would be panicking.” She was trapped inside a pickup truck, and members of Midway Fire and Rescue cut the roof off the vehicle to free her as a medical helicopter landed on the school’s football field. “You couldn’t see,” Welch said. “Not knowing if everyone is OK or worrying about your own life is terrifying.”

David Hammel, Waccamaw High School principal, told members of the senior class that he wanted to expand the “Prom Promise” to a “Life Promise.” He challenged the students to end a disturbing streak of driving and drinking. “Every year during spring break — this is my eighth year as principal — somebody has had the privilege of getting to know our Georgetown County deputies,” he said. “I’d like to change that this year. Every decision you make has lifelong consequences.”

Aaron Jordan played the role of a drunken driving suspect at the wreck scene. Though spattered with blood, he was unhurt in the accident. A deputy suspected he had been drinking and gave him field sobriety tests before placing him in handcuffs. Balancing on one foot and walking on a line heel-to-toe are impossible for a person under the influence. There’s no faking sobriety. “Even right now being totally sober,” Jordan said, “it was more difficult than I expected.”

With spring break beginning Friday, school district safety director Alan Walters said this was a perfect time for a graphic illustration of the dangers on the roads illustrated by the head-on collision. “You can have speakers and show films,” he said, “but nothing carries the message home like this.”

Hammel told Waccamaw seniors that wreck victims are cut out of vehicles every week in Georgetown or Horry counties. “No parent wants to get a phone call saying their son or daughter has been cut out of a vehicle and is in critical condition,” he said. “No parent wants to come with the coroner and identify their son or daughter lying on the road. No parent wants to come to the Georgetown County Detention Center and pick up a son or daughter who has made a devastating, tragic, life-changing decision that’s going to haunt them and their family for the rest of their lives. All I would ask you is one thing: Think before you drink, use drugs and get behind the wheel of a vehicle.”

Jed Pareno played the part of a student thrown through the windshield and killed. He was covered with a tarp and left on the pavement while firemen worked to free Welch, the driver. A third wreck victim, Evelyn Frobey, was bloody but able to walk away from the crash. “This could actually happen to anybody,” Welch said. “You could be driving and somebody just come and hit you.”

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