Hundreds of Century High students gathered on the front lawn of the Sykesville school yesterday and watched in silence at a nightmarish scene playing out.
The crowd saw two mangled cars with screaming people trapped inside; the bloodied body of a young girl lying lifeless on the concrete; fire engines, rescue trucks, ambulances, police and dozens of workers in heavy gear scrambling to save victims.
Within minutes, crews had removed the cars' doors and roofs and extricated the victims. An infant was pronounced dead, as was a prom-goer thrown from a car. A police officer administered a sobriety test to a student in a tuxedo, and others had to restrain a distraught father from attacking the teen.
The students, many of whom will attend the school's senior prom tomorrow evening, were witnessing a graphic re-enactment of a fatal accident caused by a drunken driver.
"I find out my wife is severely injured and my baby is killed," said Josh Myer, 17, who played the father. "I want to kill the drunk who did it. This will help a lot of people understand the dangers of drunk driving, and that is doubly so for those who acted in the scene."
Desmond Tighe, 17, who played a passenger injured in the crash, said, "Kids saw kids from their own school acting this out. Some people just don't get that this could happen to anyone who drinks and drives. Maybe this will get the point across."
Kristen Robbins, 15, said, "This is shocking, even though we know it is fake."
The Sykesville-Freedom District and Winfield volunteer fire companies staged the accident with help from student actors dressed in tattered prom attire and made up with blood, bruises and scrapes.
"Kids just don't think about this until they see the real McCoy," said Dennis Beard, treasurer for the Sykesville-Freedom company and a retired Howard County firefighter. "If this saves one kid, it will be worth it. And maybe, some of them will take the message home to parents."
The assembly began in the auditorium with accident statistics - more than 17,400 people died in alcohol-related accidents across the country last year. If the numbers were not enough to convince students, they had only to listen to compelling testimony from Brad Evans, 27, who was paralyzed as a result of a drunken-diving accident eight years ago. His older brother was driving, but, Evans said, "We both were drinking and should not have been driving."
He spoke of a six-month recovery that forced him to learn how "to do everything in a wheelchair."
Evans did not spare the students the details of his daily life.
"I can't fidget in my seat like you do," he said. "I have to physically move, or I will develop pressure sores."
Kendall Wadsworth, 15, said she sympathizes with Evans.
"He has spent half of my life in a wheelchair," she said.
"His story makes you think and consider the choices we make."
As the students moved outside for the re-enactment, a medical helicopter flew overhead to a real accident scene in Westminster.
Lt. Amy Carney, an emergency medical worker with the Sykesville company, told the students that the re-enactment could very well have been a real accident at 3 a.m. on Liberty Road.
"We deal with this all the time," she said.
Carney said she has not had a call on prom night since the company began the "gruesome but effective" re-enactments at high schools three years ago.
"It shows the reality of what could happen if you drink and drive," said Billy Hardester, 17.
"It doesn't just affect you. It affects everyone around you."
Century Principal Andrew Cockley said, "This is an effective way to have the students become safer when they leave school. This is a timely message to give, especially given the numbers of drivers we have."