Story and photos by BRUCE COLLIER
Last week, Walton High School (WHS) students were trooped out of doors to the school’s football stadium for a special kind of reality theater. Organized by school resource officer Deputy Artie Rodriguez and staged by a group of students, law enforcement and fire and rescue personnel and a medical evacuation helicopter, the event was a step-by-step recreation of a DUI-related accident that left two people dead and a third in police custody. The assembly also drew members of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners, Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson, and acting DeFuniak Springs City Marshal Mark Weeks. It was all for educational purposes, but turned out to be based in grim reality.
Sitting in the stands, the students first listened to a recorded conversation between two teenagers about to drive home from a party. One has been drinking, but is confident that he is capable of driving home.
Next heard was a police dispatcher report concerning a collision between a car and a pickup truck. Rodriguez and his assistants lifted a plastic tarpaulin to reveal a pair of vehicles, taken from an impoundment lot. Both were crushed together in a mass of twisted metal and shattered glass, the wake of a head-on collision. The driver of the truck sat next to his vehicle, apparently unhurt but plainly under the influence. In the other vehicle were two motionless figures – one trapped in the passenger’s seat, the other (the driver) splayed face-down on the hood. Appearances indicated she had been hurled through the glass by the impact of the collision.
The police arrived, then the EMS vehicles. The driver on the hood was determined to be dead. The passenger, still alive, had to be extracted with special cutting and prying tools. The students watched in near-complete silence as a medical helicopter whirled in to land nearby. The passenger was strapped to a stretcher and carried to the chopper, which took off, bound for a hospital emergency room.
A state trooper arrived and began questioning the truck’s driver. The trooper then administered a series of verbal and physical sobriety field tests. The driver failed them all, and was last seen taken away in handcuffs, to face DUI homicide charges.
Broadcast over the stadium’s public address system was an update – the passenger succumbed to his injuries. The parents of the driver were brought in to identify their daughter. The mother made a positive identification, then collapsed.
The recreation concluded with a funeral procession, complete with hearse, casket, and graveside tent. The students were asked to observe a moment of silence for the dead. Then a 60-ish looking man was given a microphone, and addressed the assembly.
“My name is Peter Wolniewicz,” he said, adding that the students must be wondering why a “fat old man” was talking to them. He proceeded to tell the students that what they had just seen was based on a real-life incident, a DUI-related fatality that had claimed the life of his daughter. Wolniewicz spoke briefly and to the point, urging students to stay away from drugs and alcohol, and above all, not to drink and drive. “We care about you,” he said, “we want you to make the right choices.”
WHS STUDENTS ASSEMBLED to witness a recreation of a DUI-related accident that will leave two dead. The entire school attended.