LAUREL - Sirens broke into the midday sunshine as students gathered outside of Meridian High School Thursday, April 25, and stared at two crumpled cars in their parking lot.
Firefighters and law enforcement arrived on scene, as Washington State Patrol Trooper Brandon Lee narrated the response to the crash as part of a DUI simulation in which a car driving the wrong direction T-boned another car full of students.
With students still inside both cars, firefighters broke the windows and the windshield of the T-boned car. Senior Salli Jo Matheson, who was at the wheel of that car with fake blood on her face, said she was shocked when the windows broke.
"It was interesting just to see it from the perspective of someone going through that," she said of the aftermath of the crash.
"It's as close to real life as somebody can see," said Washington State Patrol Sgt. Mark Dennis.
The simulation included the death of a passenger in the T-boned car, a sobriety test for the driver of the other car and his arrest for vehicular homicide. Dennis spoke to the students about what it's like to have to tell a parent that their child has died.
"He's not coming home tonight. He's not going to prom. There will be an empty seat at school on Monday," he told the students. "Just like that - that fast."
Junior Castro played the drunken driver and said watching firefighters break out the windows of the other car and pull out the limp body of one of his friends was an unbelievable experience.
"I knew it was going to be serious, but it was more real," the Meridian senior said. "You could feel the intensity, the sadness."
He said that friends told him afterward that the simulation made them cry. He thought it helped hit home just how dangerous drinking and driving can be.
"I wouldn't want to put the people who care about me the most through so much pain," Castro said. "Nobody is going to benefit from a tragedy like this. Just be safe."
The DUI simulation and an assembly that followed were coordinated by junior Jacob Dennis, whose father is Mark Dennis, as part of his senior project.
"I just don't want people to forget about it," he said of the dangers of drinking and driving. "It's still just as big of an issue as it was 20 years ago. I don't think it's something you can ignore."