ELIZABETHTON — Seniors at the four high schools in Carter County got the message loud and clear Wednesday that it is not a good thing to drink and drive during their prom.
The message came in the form of a very realistic crash scene in which one girl going to her prom was killed, two other prom-goers were badly injured and the driver was arrested on drunken driving charges.
The effectiveness of the message at the Hampton High School football stadium could be judged by how attentive the students were as they watched real emergency workers cut their way through a wrecked car in order to get to the injured teens, who had blood and gore all over their prom dresses and dress shirts. One of the passengers was lying lifeless on the hood, halfway through the windshield.
The audience, which had once been in a jovial and happy mood in one of the few times when classes from all four high schools sit together, turned very quiet as the performance of a terrible nightmare went on. Even a spectacular landing on the 50-yard line by a Wings helicopter could not distract the students from the message.
The teen prom-goers were Christian Potter, who portrayed the only person in the car who refused to drink alcohol on the way to the prom and who died in the crash; Holly Barker, who was badly injured and taken by Wings; Wade Tugman, who portrayed the drunken driver; and Cody Shadoan, who played the other injured teen.
The rest of the well-rehearsed actors were real-life emergency workers who simply did what they do at every fatal crash scene. They included members of the Carter County Rescue Squad, the Hampton-Valley Forge Volunteer Fire Department, the Carter County Sheriff’s Department, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and Wings Air Rescue.
The parents of the two girls going to the prom were played by the girl’s real parents. After the wreck scene was cleared, the public address system played the phone call of the next of kin being notified by the sheriff’s department. Marissa Potter’s tearful performance was strongly felt in the audience, with many of the students crying.
That was followed by a real-life example. Jean Litton spoke to the teens and told them about her son, Jaydey Dunn, who was killed by a drunken driver on March 15, 1999. She told them her son was 22 and an Airborne Ranger who was anxiously awaiting the birth of his son in three months. He never would see his son, who is now 13 and growing up without a father.
“Don’t drive home with someone who has been drinking,” Litton told the seniors, “Make other choices and try to get the driver to stay. ... Don’t let a bad choice be the key to your coffin.”
Following the performance, Sheriff Chris Mathes told the seniors there would be tables with prom promises for them to sign if they desired. The promise ended with “I will not use alcohol” on their big night at the prom.
Mathes then made a promise to them. He said if the seniors had no accidents on prom night, no DUIs, he would submit to having the students shave his head.
As the students walked out, many gathered by the table with the prom promises.
One of the students, Makia Wilson of Happy Valley High School, said “I loved it.”
Another Happy Valley student, Amber Hicks, finished signing the promise and said “It touched my heart.”
The program was coordinated by Cloudland School Resource Officer Shane Watson, who said he has been working on it since November. He said once he told the various agencies what he was doing everyone was willing to help in any way they could.
Watson, who shaves his head, hopes his sheriff will soon be joining him.