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Mock crash brings perils of wreckless driving into harsh focus

Mock crash brings perils of wreckless driving into harsh focus
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HARVARD — It was an idyllic morning: clear, bright and warm. Wind whiffled lush grass on a field behind The Bromfield School.

Beyond the field, Bare Hill Pond sparkled in the sun.

Beneath a blossoming apple tree by the road, two wrinkled wrecks spoiled the scene. Amid scattered metal and broken glass, a Volvo sedan lay on its roof in a grassy gully. A Nissan Pathfinder had front-ended the tree.

Onlookers on the hillside and along Pond Road included neighbors, reporters and photographers. Students stood on the grass below at a set distance from the crash site.

Sirens screamed. Those in charge were there early. Fire Chief Robert Mignard, former fire Chief Peter Warren, ambulance Director Alison Lierhaus, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) crew coordinator Sean Doocey and police Officer Kim Healy all took part.

EMT Jane Thompsen, on the sidelines that day, has responded to accidents like this. Fortunately, she said, this one was not real.

This was a mock crash, staged annually here as a drill for emergency personnel and a demonstration for high school students.

It was a scary scene. Every year, notices are sent to both schools, but passersby are often taken in.

Judy Hoffman, of nearby Tahanto Trail, thought it was real.

”I’m so relieved!” she said when told it was not.

During the exercise, the fire chief noted elapsed times. Two minutes, 10 minutes.

About an hour in, a helicopter landed. One veteran EMT said that, in a real accident, seriously injured victims would not wait so long at the scene. By now, they would have been taken to a local hospital for treatment and shuttled from there.

It was a coordinated effort from the start. Firefighters extricated the victims from their vehicles. EMTs worked with victims on the ground, carried them on backboards to ambulances from Harvard and Bolton. Tool boxes were everywhere. Hoses snaked across the site. Everything looked surreal enough to be real.

But it was a setup. The Volvo was dropped by forklift. The Nissan bumped slowly down the hill. Victims were strategically placed afterward. Carefully. Nobody was hurt here. Only juniors and seniors could watch.

In a short, post-event assembly, police Chief Edward Denmark and Bromfield Principal Thomas Hall stressed key points. Driving is serious business. Accidents happen, but some things are avoidable such as alcohol and excessive speed.

The message: Drive carefully, wear seat belts and do what you can to be safe on the roads.

Outside, the young actors, smeared with fake blood, sketched their role-playing scenario. The Volvo was turning onto Pond Road headed for the beach, when it collided with the SUV, which was going about 100 miles an hour. Both vehicles went over the hill.

Amber Masters ended up on the SUV hood, unconscious, thrust through the windshield. Her virtual injuries were severe. She was sent for helicopter transport along with Greta Hutchinson, who landed in the crook of the tree.

Reed Harasimowicz, the SUV driver, was pinned behind the steering wheel.

Only one passenger, Annie Basile, wore a seat belt. She and Jamie Kendall were in the Volvo.

Katie Croyle played the screamer. Her anguished cries sliced the stillness after the crash.

Mignard recalls real cries of pain, pleas for help.

”The screaming is the worst,” he said. “Sometimes it goes on for 15 minutes” before emergency crews arrive.

Another voice called, “Alex! “Where’s Alex?”

Nobody answered.

Alex Dill was the Volvo driver. Then, he was still in the car. Later, he lay in the grass, motionless, a gruesome gash on his head before he was covered with a white sheet.

Undertakers from Badgers Funeral Home zipped him into a white case, lifted him onto a stretcher and wheeled him to the hearse.

As intense as the day’s experience was, comfort came with the knowledge that this time, it was just a drill.