GOWANDA - The day before prom, the stage was lit with a string of lights covered by gauze and ready for the prom coronation Saturday at Gowanda High School. Before everyone gets dressed up and dances the night away, the school wanted to instill safety in their students.
School Resource Officers Jen Alessi of the Gowanda Police Department and Deputy John Bennett of the Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Office organized a driving while intoxicated mock crash held adjacent to the tennis courts. Prior to the accident reconstruction, Elizabeth Obad from Mothers Against Drunk Driving Erie County spoke about the tragic loss of her son to a drunk driver.
"We want you to have memories made for a lifetime," Alessi said "but what I do want you to do is be safe."
OBSERVER Photo by Samantha McDonnell
Gowanda High School staged a mock driving while intoxicated crash outside. Students portrayed victims in the scenario as various police agencies and fire departments responded to the scene.
Obad told the story of her son George, a sergeant in the Marine Corps, and how he was killed when he was 26 by a drunk driver on Oct. 15, 1994.
She recounted the day she learned her son had been killed and that she had driven to the McKinley Mall. When she returned home just before 3 p.m., she found her husband pacing in the driveway. He said officers from the Marine Corps had stopped by saying something happened to George, but they would not tell him since he was not George's father. The officers finally came back and told Obad that George died in a motorcycle accident.
"Everything in your life can change in an instant," Obad said.
She wanted to go to Newburgh, where her son had been stationed, to see George's tattoos before she believed he was really gone. She remembers after hearing the news, the phone kept ringing. George's fiancee Kim had known since 6 a.m. that George had died. She was instructed not to tell Obad until someone was able to tell her in person. It was then Obad received details about her son's death.
"Bob, George's friend, came over on his Harley Davidson and said 'Come on. Let's go for one last ride.' George did not want to go. He told Bob he wasn't feeling well," Obad said.
George did not know that Bob had a fight with his wife earlier in the night and George had been the best man in the wedding just four weeks earlier. The pair rode on Bob's motorcycle to a bar and stayed until last call. Bob had gotten his final beer, which he spilled on himself and George asked if he was OK to drive. Bob said he was OK to drive and no one drives his motorcycle except for him.
"They left the (bar) and went 4.2 miles at 80 to 100 miles per hour when they lost control of the bike. George was slammed into the guard rail. The witness told me that (George) was decapitated. All she found was his leather jacket, his jeans and his leg was in the middle of the road," Obad said. "The girl at the scene that had heard the crash heard someone yelling 'stop, stop, stop' while loading her pickup truck a little after 2 a.m."
Obad said that while George was able to drink, he only had one shot in his system. He also was an avid motorcycle rider and was always looking out for those around him. George just made a bad decision which cost him his life. Obad said that driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol begins as soon as you use drugs or alcohol.
"His gut instinct must have told him that night that Bob wasn't OK to drive but in a split second he made a decision and that's when tragedy occurs. He could have thrown Bob against the wall and said 'Bob you're not OK to drive.' His body was torn apart because of one bad choice," Obad said.
Obad, who is a paramedic, also talked about other accidents she had been on scene, including two accidents involving her neighbors. One of her neighbors had been at a bar fight and was fleeing from others in the fight when they lost control of a motorcycle and crashed. George's best friend died in an alcohol related crash and Obad's father was killed by a drunk driver when she was 9 months old.
"When they pronounce you dead, it's a simple 'Let's call it at (a time).' In that moment your life is gone," she said.
Obad said her speaking of her son and her experiences with drunk driving is to make sure everyone is safe. Being safe does not only include not driving under the influence but also includes not getting into fights or leaving a friend who may have acute alcohol poisoning. She encouraged the students to not be afraid to grab someone's keys.
"It's much easier to take the keys away, not get in the car with them, not let them drive, not let them drink too much ... than it is to go to the funeral later," Obad said.
Following the talk by Obad, students went outside to see a re-enactment of a DWI accident. Student actors Dylan McIntire, Rachel Greco, Cayleigh Pracht, Ashley Dankert, Josh Mitchell as well as English teacher Andrea Geist portrayed victims in a two-car accident. New York State Police questioned McIntire who had allegedly been drinking during the crash and was taken away in handcuffs. Many victims were transported by ambulance or Mercy Flight. Hills Funeral Chapel even responded to the scene for a deceased victim.
"I think its really important for practical experience. You can lecture (students) all you want but when it's real, it's something they can (see)," Alessi said. "I just want them to be safe."
Also helping with the mock crash were Gowanda Police Department, Seneca Nation of Indians Marshals, Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Department, Erie County Sheriff's Department, Perrysburg Fire Company, Dayton Fire Company, Gowanda Fire Department, Gowanda Ambulance Department, Collins Fire Company and Cattaraugus Indian Reservation Volunteer Fire Department.
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