“Two people deceased here in Wyandot County on prom night.”
Those were the words from the reporter on the scene, a part played by the Rev. Jim Stauffer, during the prom night horror story docudrama put on Thursday morning at the Wyandot County Fairgrounds. More 650 juniors and seniors from Upper Sandusky, Mohawk and Carey high schools filled the grandstand, watching as rescue workers used the JAWS of Life to free victims from the wreckage caused by a teenage driver, played by Carey High School junior Audrey Hotelling, who was texting while driving to a pre-prom dinner in a car with three of her friends. Hotelling’s vehicle clipped the back of a tractor, causing Hotelling to lose control of the car and collide head-on with a school van driven by Upper Sandusky High School teacher Graham Treadway with seven high school students inside.
The scene was set by a narrator before tarps covering the wreckage were pulled back to show the blood, wreckage and bodies – two dead.
“I’m so sorry,” said a crying and bloody Hotelling, as she climbed from the car and scanned the scene. “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen.”
The crowd heard the voice of the reporter describing the scene, mixed in with emergency personnel talking over their radios as they responded to the call for help.
“I was thinking, ‘”Oh my God, this could really happen,’” said Hotelling, speaking after the docudrama. “I didn’t think that I would get caught up in it that much, but I did.”
The scene was life-like, with fictional blood, carnage and emotion. The teenage actors from the three high schools brought the docudrama to life, as microphones carried their cries and screams through the crowd. Many of the actors cried and sobbed, as though the chaos unfolding was real.
“When we were practicing I thought it would be hard to act it out, but once you were in it, it was so real,” said Mohawk student Rachael Flood, whose character dialed 911 after pulling up to the accident scene after the crash.
“It was creepy,” added Mohawk junior Kaitlyn Smith, whose character came upon the scene with Flood. “It seemed really weird and it was scary, especially when it’s people you know and you can’t do anything to help them.”
Treadway’s character and the front-seat passenger in the car driven by Hotelling, played by Carey High School senior Arneshiah Mitsch, both were killed. Mitsch’s character was not wearing a seatbelt and was thrown through the windshield. Both their bloodied and battered bodies were laid out in front of the wreckage for all to see before they were pronounced dead by Wyandot County Coronor Dr. Joseph Sberna. Their bodies were placed in body bags, loaded into hearses and taken away.
“It was weird when they zipped the body bag up,” Treadway said. “… It was weird lying in the back of a hearse and looking up.”
Mitsch’s voice echoed through the fairgrounds, speaking her final thoughts to her mother as her body was carted away.
“I wanted to do so many things, like sing and dance and run. What about college and graduation day? I’m still so young. Tell my brother not to cry. Tell dad to be brave. And when I go to heaven put, â€˜Beloved daughter,’ on my grave. Someone should have told them not to text and drive. If only they had told them, I would still be alive.”
The docudrama played out through the very end, with students leaving the event through the middle of a double funeral. Each closed casket had a picture of the victim inside as mourners cried and listened to pastors reading from the Bible.
“It was very educational,” said Upper Sandusky High School senior Breeana Vogel. “It taught people not to text and drive or do anything while you’re driving.”
“It definitely brings reality to life,” USHS senior Alex Newell added. “It makes you want to throw your cell phone away.”
The bi-annual event is put on by the Ohio State University Extension and Wyandot County Sheriff’s Office, with law enforcement, emergency and fire agencies from across the county, Life Flight and the Ohio State Highway Patrol all taking part. One student (a passenger in the van driven by Treadway, played by Jenna Jesko) was loaded into a Life Flight helicopter and flown from the scene. Other actors were taken away in ambulances.
“I had a real fear of getting cut out of the car,” said Carey High School junior Kayla Wood, a rear passenger in Hotelling’s car, who had to be freed by firefighters using the JAWS of Life to remove the roof of the car. “You felt the glass hitting your neck and it was very scary.”
Two teenage characters played by Adam Bils and Tyler Rice were arrested after performing field sobriety tests that showed they had been drinking.
“It’s something that we do that promotes safety, whether it be texting or alcohol-related,” Wyandot County Sheriff Mike Hetzel said. “… And there’s no law against texting and driving.”
The docudrama (from the crash to the funerals of both victims) lasted nearly 40 minutes.
“All the stuff was donated,” said Laura Wood, who helped coordinate the docudrama. “Life Flight alone would cost $15,000, but everyone donated their services. If it saves one life, it was worth it.”
By CHANDA NEELY