By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
Rick and Sandi Norton and a supporting cast of emergency service workers and other volunteers gave the performances of their lives Tuesday morning in the hope of saving the lives of the young people gathered as their audience.
The Nortons portrayed the grieving parents who were called to the scene of a head-on fatal crash in the parking lot of the Baker Sports Complex. In the simulated accident, the Norton's andquot;son,andquot; portrayed by Baker High School junior Mitch Grove, was killed. He was thrown through the passenger-side windshield of the car in which he was riding with friends.
The driver, 16-year-old Niki Buxton, and the other young people in the car had been drinking, according to the simulated scenario, said Wyn Lohner, Baker City Police Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) officer.
The Nortons yelled angrily at Buxton as Oregon State Police Sr. Trooper Jeff Spencer hauled her away on charges of driving under the influence of intoxicants after she failed a sobriety test at the scene.
andquot;You were able to see firsthand the tragedy that results when people drink and drive,andquot; District Attorney Matt Shirtcliff told the students as the simulation ended. andquot;There are consequences for all of your actions.andquot; If the situation had been real, the driver would have spent the night in jail pending a court arraignment, he said. She would face several charges, all allowing the state to prosecute the 16-year-old as an adult and all requiring mandatory minimum sentencing upon conviction.
The field sobriety tests showed that the driver was impaired by her alcohol consumption, so whether her blood-alcohol content reached the .08 level, Oregon's legal limit, is irrelevant, Shirtcliff said.
In this scenario, the driver could face charges including first-degree manslaughter, which carries a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence upon conviction; first-degree assault, seven years; second-degree assault, six years; or criminally negligent homicide, which carries a mandatory two-year minimum sentence upon conviction.
andquot;You're likely to go to prison for 10 years, even if you are age 16,andquot; Shirtcliff told the students.
In addition to prison time, the young girl would have to live with the fact that her poor choices had resulted in the death of a friend, and she would have to face the boy's parents at her court sentencing hearing, he said.
The Nortons said they were motivated in their performance by concern for all students, especially their 16-year-old son, Drew, and their 11-year-old, Jeff, who recently graduated from Lohner's DARE program at Brooklyn Elementary.
andquot;We hope it had the desired effect,andquot; Sandi Norton said. andquot;We hope kids will really realize the tragic situation that can occur if they're drinking and driving.andquot; Principal Jerry Peacock expressed his appreciation to those who contributed to the event and added his hope that the students were impressed by the demonstration.
andquot;We hope what the kids saw was a dose of reality,andquot; he said. andquot;They have a tendency to believe they're so invincible that nothing can ever happen to them. It can and it will if they don't do what's necessary to prevent it.andquot;
Lohner, Fire Chief Tim Frost and Tammy Bloomer, the Baker County Prevention and Education Center mobilization coordinator, organized the event and recruited the volunteers.
They included officer Wayne Chastain of the Baker City Police and his wife, Farrah. The Chastains portrayed a couple who were out for a drive with their baby, secured in a child safety seat in the back, when they were struck by the teen-ager's car. The storyline of the simulated accident called for them to sustain serious injuries and to be trapped inside after the front of their car was crushed in the accident.
The two vehicles, provided by Roadrunner and Superior Towing companies, and the accident victims were draped with tarps prior to the arrival of the BHS student body at about 9:30 a.m. when the scene was unveiled.
For the most part, students watched attentively as the drama unfolded. A third car arrived carrying BHS students Lilly Shipsey, Anna Mezger-Sieg and Shannon Russell-Hasel. The girls started the emergency response to the accident by calling 9-1-1.
Buxton's surviving passengers, portrayed by Kari Staten and Lindy Morgan, were immobilized and carried on backboards to the ambulance for transport to the hospital at 9:47 a.m. Corinna Jacobs of the Baker County Dispatch Center provided dispatch service for the action, which was broadcast over a speaker system set up for the demonstration.
Firefighters showed how they extricate people who are trapped inside vehicles, breaking the side windows and windshield and then prying the doors off the couple's car to safely move them to the ambulance. They were taken to the hospital at 9:55 a.m.
The demonstration ended about 10 a.m. with the arrival of a hearse from Gray's West andamp; Co. that transported the andquot;deadandquot; boy to the mortuary.
In speaking to the Baker School Board Tuesday night, Nathan Defrees, BHS student body president, gave a positive report on the demonstration.
andquot;It was really great, I thought,andquot; he said. andquot;It was very meaningful to a lot of the kids and very sobering.andquot;