BEECHER CITY — The sound of fire sirens comes screaming down the highway.

After pulling up to a quick, dusty halt, firefighters pile out of their trucks and begin to assess the damage, two cars in a head-on collision. One car is full of trapped teenagers.

The scene gets more crowded as firefighters try to rescue the teenagers from the crushed car. First ambulances join the scene, and then parents skid up to the accident in a gold minivan.

An emergency helicopter descends from overhead, blowing up dust and readying its interior for an injured patient.

The last two vehicles to the scene are the most ominous, a black SUV carrying the county coroner and an empty hearse from the funeral home.

Some of the victims leave the scene in an ambulance or the helicopter, one leaves in the hearse, pronounced dead at the scene.

This fictitious situation played itself out behind Beecher City High School Thursday morning to send a message to students who were watching — do not let this happen to you.

The Tri-County Fire Protection District, Effingham County Sheriff’s Department, Illinois State Police, Effingham County coroner, Air Evac Lifeteam and Beecher City school administration put together an extensive accident reconstruction for high school students followed by a somber program.

The high school students first saw five of their fellow high school students in an actual head-on collision behind the high school. The fire department used its extraction equipment to cut the students out of the crushed car, with some of those involved acting as if they were injured and being loaded into ambulances and the helicopter.

One student, the last to be pulled from the car, was loaded into a body bag and wheeled into the hearse as his “acting” parents fought back sheriff’s deputies trying to keep them away from the body.

Student Nick Durbin, who was one of the students pretending to be injured in the simulated car crash, said later that being in the car and having to be taken out by paramedics gave him an idea of what it might actually be like to be in a serious car accident.

“It was scary,” Durbin said.

As it would in real life, the fatal accident was followed by a funeral set up in the school gymnasium. Instead of a body in the casket from Lockart-Green Funeral Home in Beecher City, it was a mirror to reflect the faces of each of the students who walked by it.

Upon entering the gymnasium funeral, students were given prayer cards with the words “this could be you” on the front.

Once indoors, the students heard testimony from firefighters and county officials about how seeing youths in a senseless car accident affects them, as well as a speech from a local man who lost his son in a car accident last year.

Dan Baiotto was invited to the high school by Principal John Kruger, who has been a friend of his for many years.

Baiotto had a personal connection to Thursday’s events and the message Kruger was trying to give students because his son Jason Baiotto died in a car accident more than a year ago.

While he projected a picture of his smiling son as a teenager on a screen in the gymnasium, Baiotto told students that Jason Baiotto was a junior at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and had, like many of them, some of the best times in his life with his friends.

“That’s my boy,” Baiotto said, gesturing to the photo.

Baiotto got the call his son had been in a serious car accident at 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 15 of last year, but by the time Baiotto reached the hospital, his 20-year-old son was already dead. He had been the passenger in the car.

Most parents will say it is their worst nightmare to wake up to a phone call about their child early in the morning, but that cannot be true, because a person can wake up from a nightmare. The pain of losing a child does not end with a bad dream, Baiotto said.

Tri-County Fire Protection District firefighters David Petty and Doug Ray told students it is one of their worst fears that they will respond to a scene and see a group of young people injured or even dead in a vehicular accident.

In a small community like Beecher City, it is highly likely the first responders will know the person in the accident, whether it is from baseball games or working at the grocery store, Ray, the fire chief, said.

“It really affects us too,” Petty said.

Brian Green of Lockart-Green Funeral Home told students how devastating it is for families to lose someone, and then have to make decisions on how to handle the deceased’s remains. Life is really like a series of choices, Green said, and making responsible decisions can keep students from ending up in a casket.

“Don’t let it be you who makes the bad decision because your lives will never ever be the same again,” Green said.

Student Michael Ealy said seeing the entire program at school Thursday made him think about how difficult it is for families to have to deal with the sudden loss of a loved one.

Ealy and student Jeremy Lagerhausen were two of the students who participated in the car crash scene outdoors, and they agreed it was an eye-opening experience to see what paramedics have to go through to help accident victims.

Perhaps it also will make other students in the school think about how they are driving in the future, Lagerhausen said.

“Hopefully it does help some people,” he said.

Amber Williams can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 135 or awilliams@effinghamdailynews.com.

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