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By Bj Lewis

Mock crash drives home dangers of drinking, driving

Hundreds of students stood on the hill near the intersection of North Texas Boulevard and Eagle Drive on Thursday night watching an all-too-familiar scene play out: A night of drinking and driving had led to a collision between a pickup and a car, leaving serious injuries and at least one arrest.

Cellphones recorded video and snapped pictures of the carnage and the CareFlite helicopter that swooped in to take one of the crash victims to the hospital for further care.

Moments later a woman’s voice crackled through a P.A. system, imploring students to take in what they had just seen and to make better decisions over the upcoming spring break. They had witnessed a mock crash scenario put on by the Student Government Association for the University of North Texas with participation from local law enforcement and first responders.

“I think it should be done every year just to wake you back up, just to say, ‘Hey, this could be you,’” UNT sophomore Aylen Jara said.

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Jara stood with three other friends as the mock crash played out, at times relaying experiences of drunk driving that people she knows have gone through in the past. All around her, many other students’ conversations mirrored hers.

The crash event was the brainchild of Matt Varnell, director of public relations for the Student Government Association, to show the dangers of drinking and driving.

“It’s almost spring break, and people don’t always make the best choices during spring break or any time for that matter,” Varnell said. “It’s a pretty serious issues on a college campus.”

Varnell has been working with the university police, UNT Greek Life, the university program council and Denton police and fire department officials since October to get the scenario set. Five students also participated as victims.

Before the outdoor event, Mark Sterner from Campus Speak talked about his experience with mixing alcohol and driving.

UNT and Texas Woman’s University will be out for spring break the week of March 10.

The timing just worked out great that it was right before spring break, he said.

“It’s more common than one might think to see it in a controlled, yet real-life, setting,” he said. “It’s going to be really impactful, and we hope people can experience it this way instead of a way that is a lot more tragic.”

Varner said he has had other universities contact him to ask for his program.

“I am hoping it branches out to other universities,” he said.

Jara said the mock crash scene, similar to one in which she participated in high school years back, raised awareness about the dangers.

“You can imagine yourself and your other friends being in the same situation,” she said. “I think it’s impacted all four of us. I’m supposed to go out tonight, and I am reconsidering it now.”

Jara noted that it can be difficult to scare people out of drinking at all. The mock crash can be a reminder to practice moderation, a lesson she feels was heard by close to 75 percent of the hundreds of onlookers.

“It should be an eye-opener to just make better choices and limitations,” she said. “Everything is OK as long as you have limits.”

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.