- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2016

PARIS, Ill. (AP) - The gloomy, skies helped set the somber mood at Paris High School as juniors and seniors watched their classmates be treated by Edgar County first responders in a DUI crash reenactment at the high school campus.

Traditionally held every other year at the fairgrounds, the new school allowed the event to happen on site, with students sitting on the berm south of the football field.

Put on by the CAMA and SADD students and sponsors, the other juniors and seniors watched as eight of their classmates were unveiled to have blood, bruises and prosthetics for broken bones and open wounds.

Staci Garzolini-Skelton, one of the sponsors for CAMA and SADD, announced to the crowd that the scenario contained elements from actual calls received by area first responders.

For this scenario, the driver (played by Hunter Cusick) of one vehicle was taking his date and another couple home from an after-prom party where he had been drinking.

Considered a reliable and skilled driver when sober, his friends did not push the issue for him not to drive. When he swerved to miss a pot hole, the drunk driver did not get back in his lane before hitting another vehicle with two moms and their children inside.

As the first responders arrived on the reenactment scene and started going through their regular motions, Paris Fire Chief Brian Gates took the microphone and explained what was happening to the students.

A couple of the students played dead, as their characters had been killed in the scenario, while others acted as they would in this tragedy, some able to move freely and others waiting for the fire department to cut them out of the vehicles.

The tool known as the Jaws of Life was used to cut the top of one car and one of the doors off of another.

While it’s not always available, this year’s reenactment featured a LifeLine helicopter that airlifted one of the student actors, Andi Powers, away from the high school.

Cusick was given a sobriety test on scene, and he was put in a police car and taken away since his character was arrested for driving under the influence and causing a fatal accident.

“The young man taken in the police car, the thing to remember is, when he sobers up, he’ll be living with this for the rest of his life,” Gates said.

Because there were “fatalities,” a couple of students were placed in body bags and put into hearses from Templeton and Stewart and Carroll Funeral Homes.

Participating in this reenactment were the Paris Police Department, the Paris Fire Department, Edgar County Special Service Area Ambulance, Edgar County Sheriff Jeff Wood, Edgar County Coroner Pete Templeton, Templeton Funeral Home, Stewart and Carroll Funeral Home, the AirMedCare helicopter and Moonlight Entertainment.

German’s Towing and Recovery donated the two cars that were used in the reenactment.

Garzolini-Skelton credited Gates, who she said helped plan and prepare for this year’s event.

Guest speaker, Sam Cary, shared her story about her DUI accident. She was accompanied by Coles County Probation officer Pam Kelly. Cary has been speaking at schools and events for two years now.

“Her main goal is to share about her experience with this so that she can prevent a tragedy like this from happening to somebody else,” Kelly said.

“I tell you exactly how it happened. I’m not here to sugarcoat anything or to alter it in any way,” Cary said to the students as she started her story.

On October 29, 2011, Cary went out with her best friend, Katie. While Cary did drink that night, she didn’t feel drunk and decided to drive herself and Katie from Charleston to Ashmore to Charleston again to Kansas.

On their way back to Charleston one more time, on River Hill, Cary looked over to Katie, and during that time, she had allowed the car to drift off the road. Trying to correct this, Cary lost control of the car, which spun completely and landed with the drivers’ side of the car against the embankment.

When she woke up in the hospital, Cary found out that her friend and second passenger, Jordan, was fine and just had a broken nose.

Cary didn’t find out that Katie was killed until a detective from the Coles County Police Department and a state police officer informed her that she was being charged with a DUI and the death of Katie Lord-Floyd.

“And that is how I found out that my best friend had died,” Cary said.

Katie had been ejected from the car through the passenger window, and she suffered a skull fracture when her head hit the window, killing her instantly.

Cary herself had broken her spine in four places and her neck in several more, and there was a fear that she would never be able to walk again.

But she was able to walk again, and she was even asked by Katie’s parents to stand up at her visitation and be there for her burial.

After Katie was buried, Cary was facing seven to 14 years in prison, along with about two and a half years of legal issues from the accident in October 2011 to her final hearing in January 2014.

Cary did not go to prison, though most people in her situation do, and she was given four years of probation instead, which includes having her go to schools and other public events to talk about her experience.

“She’s telling you the story the way it is and the follow up of the tragedy and these other things about being a felon and losing her job because it’s not just the day of the accident or a week after the accident. She’s got emotional scars that she bears every day from losing her best friend,” Kelly said.

Originally from Charleston, Cary now lives in Brocton.

“I think that makes a difference. … I think it hits closer to the kids. It’s not like she’s from two hours away or something. Not that it should matter, but I think it really does matter that when the kids are here, a rural community, they’re like ‘Oh, that happened here, very close to here,’” Kelly said.

The crash reenactment is held every other year before Prom weekend to give the juniors and seniors a shocking reminder to make good choices and stay safe.

“This is all in preparation for prom and graduation and May Fete and, actually, any weekend, any weekday, anytime you have the opportunity to make decisions. I hope you always make good ones, and when you don’t make good ones, I hope you have a responsible friend or parent or counselor or someone that you can call who will come get you, and make sure you get home safely,” Garzolini-Skelton said.

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Source: The Paris Beacon News, https://bit.ly/1pHUDWJ

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Information from: The Paris Beacon-News, https://www.parisbeacon.com

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