Mock accident depicts consequences of drunk driving

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Students look on as EMTs extract their classmates from the scene of a mock accident. In the background at left, a police officer gives field sobriety tests to underage driver Dominick Knudtson. At right, Hannah Anderegg lays covered on the hood of the vehicle after being fatally injured during a head-on collision. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

A 911 call from Clayton Ridge High School came in last Tuesday, May 5, at 1:08 p.m. Dispatchers sent responders to the scene in front of the school, where two vehicles traveling in opposite directions on River Park Drive  met in a head-on collision caused by underage alcohol use. Students Dominick Knudtson, Hannah Anderegg, Colten Rastetter, and Nicole Breitbach were involved in the accident, as was Principal Shane Wahls, his wife Hilary, and their daughter Nicole. 

This mock accident was a collaborative effort between the school and the community, including Robin Esmann, the Guttenberg EMS, fire and police departments, pastor Shane Anderson, county attorney Alan Heavens, David Bahls, Tuecke-Allyn Funeral Home, and many others. Knudtson played the role of the underage drunk driver. Passengers in his car included Rastetter, whose severe brain injuries left him hospitalized, Breitbach with lower leg injuries, and the sober Anderegg, who was fatally injured when thrown from the vehicle. 

The Wahls family rode in the opposing vehicle. Hilary and her paralyzed daughter were pinned in the car while dad Shane angrily confronted Knudtson and police officers as to why the drunk kids were receiving help before his family. 

High school students listened as the real 911 call come in over the school’s intercom and then were released onto the street to view the unexpected tragedy. Officer Derek Chambers was first to arrive on the scene, having to separate the drunk driver, who was convinced everyone was overreacting, and the frustrated father whose wife and child were trapped in his vehicle while a girl lay dying on the other car’s hood. 

Rescue personnel arrived within minutes and began managing the accident. Police officers performed field sobriety tests on Knudtson and proceeded to arrest him for driving under the influence. Fire fighters extracted passengers from vehicles, even detaching the roof of the car to rescue Nicole Wahls. EMTs provided medical care to those who required it, and all the while, Anderegg lay ignored on the hood of her friend’s vehicle, a blanket covering her body. Her family looked on from the roadside. 

Inside the school, students and staff gathered in the gymnasium. A casket, carried by Anderegg’s closest friends, was brought into the room and her parents placed a rose atop the box. Pastor Shane Anderson gave a eulogy in her honor. Knudtson attended the funeral in handcuffs with a police escort. 

Anderegg’s tearful parents, Kris and Dave, held hands as they listened to a recording of their daughter’s voice addressing her mother in a poem that captures her final thoughts: “The driver’s drunk, mom, and now I’m the one who will pay.”

Attorney Alan Heavens explained the legal ramifications of driving while intoxicated, including fines, loss of license, and jail time. “Those are all if you don’t hurt anyone,” he told students. A drunk driver who’s decision results in the death of another person will spend a minimum of 17.5 years in jail. “Many of you in this room are less than 17. Imagine spending your whole life up to now in prison,” Heavens said. 

Students watched a video of Knudtson being driven to jail, booked, and pacing around a jail cell. “I was only in jail for about 30 minutes, but it felt like three hours,” he said. “It’s not a life I can imagine any of us wanting to live.”

Knudtson addressed the student body about his experience as a partipant in the mock disaster. “This whole experience has opened my eyes to how serious it all is. It shows how fast things can change – you go from a party, having fun, booze cruising and suddenly your closest friends could be dead. The whole community would be changed by one stupid thing we wanted to do.”

An estimated 4300 deaths result from underage drinking each year in the U.S. Officer Derek Chambers of the Guttenberg Police Department has been serving for seven years, and told students that every fatality he’s ever attended to has involved alcohol. 

“The worst part of being a law enforcement officer is that it’s our responsibility to call the family and notify them of the death,” he said, urging students to, “Make a phone call. Stay the night. Don’t make me respond to that accident.”

Principal Shane Wahls addressed students somberly, admitting that when considering whether he and his family would participate, he broke down – not just for his own daughter, but for the Anderegg family, knowing how difficult it would be for them to play out this scenario of their daughter’s death. “I hope this really has affected you and made an impact, because the only way [drunk driving] can be prevented is by you and the choices you make,” said Wahls. “I can’t think of the sorrow it would bring to walk back into this gymnasium and not have this be make believe.”

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