By Kim Hilsenbeck
The sounds of sirens pierced the bright, sunny morning. Minutes later, fire, police and ambulance vehicles descended on the parking lot outside Lehman High School last Thursday.
The school’s roughly 3,000 students looked on as emergency personnel worked an accident. Victims of a two-car crash, including one that was flipped on its hood, were strewn around the scene. Blood trailed the parking lot. Empty beer cans and a half-full bottle of Jim Beam were near the cars.
In the middle of it all, the Grim Reaper waited for his next victims, silently canvassing the scene.
The full-scale mock drunken driving crash was part of the Shattered Dreams program created by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in the late 1990s. In 2001, the program came to Hays CISD under the direction of Hays County Justice of the Peace Beth Smith, along with her daughters Crystal Dixon and Tiffany Curnutt.
This year marks the seventh presentation to students in the district. The program alternates between Lehman and Hays high schools about every three years.
The dramatization, which took months of coordination, involved the Hays County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), the police and fire departments from Kyle, the Hays County Justice of the Peace Precinct 2, the Hays County Constable Precinct 2, the Texas Department of Public Safety, Seton Medical Center Hays and local professional makeup artists Jon Claeton and Andrew DeLeon.
An emergency medical helicopter landed several minutes into the program. First responders loaded one of the “injured” students in it for a ride to Seton Medical Center Hays. That student’s family was brought in and watched their son “die” at the hospital.
Two other students rode in ambluances to Seton where they also perished. Two other crash victims from the mock scene were taken away in black body bags and loaded into a hearse, courtesy of Harrell Funeral Home.
The drunk driver, Chloe Klingman, 18, went through the same experience as any driver who causes such an accident. Following a field sobriety test and arrest, complete with handcuffs, she was hauled off in a sheriff’s vehicle and booked into custody.
According to HCSO officials, Klingman was taken to jail, booked, photographed and put in a holding cell. She also had to call her parents from jail and tell them she was charged with intoxication manslaughter.
The mock crash was just one part of the Shattered Dreams program.
Each of the crash victims wrote a winning essay to be part of the event. Lehman’s counselors said they had about 25 essay winners who were involved either in the crash or throughout the day.
Other students with winning essays were pulled from class by the Grim Reaper, played by volunteer Kyle firefighter Mike Fulton. The Reaper went room to room every 15 minutes selecting more victims — silently placing a hand on their shoulder — representing how often someone dies in drunken driving-related car crash.
A HCSO deputy read obituaries to the classes of those pulled by the Grim Reaper. Photos and obituaries were later posted in the main hallway, decked out as a graveyard, where others could write a note to the deceased victims. Those victims, who returned to class in make-up and black t-shirts, spent the rest of the day in complete silence.
Parents of the mock deceased victims were notified by the sheriff’s office about their son’s or daughter’s death. HCSO officials said everything was prearranged so as not to completely freak out families.
On Thursday night, the “dead” students participated in an off-sight retreat to discuss their experience. All outside communication was cut off. They wrote letters to their parents, in some cases apologizing for causing an accident or getting in the car with a drunk driver.
An assembly on Friday gave Lehman students a chance to discuss their feelings and experiences about Shattered Dreams.