Mock crash in Munhall helps illustrate perils of texting while driving

| Saturday, March 1, 2014, 8:54 a.m.

The call came in around 9:45 a.m. Friday: Three students from Propel Andrew Street High School were seriously injured in a single-vehicle crash outside the school along E. Tenth Avenue in Munhall.

The cause? The teen driver had been texting.

Within minutes, the faint sound of sirens grew louder as a crowd of students made their way to the grisly scene. Three of their peers — juniors Myah Lowry and La'Rae Clark-Butler and senior Briana Kennedy — lay bloodied and contorted inside and on the hood of the car amidst broken glass and jagged debris.

Luckily, none of it was real.

Everything was staged as part of a mock crash akin to those high schools typically use to deter drinking and driving — and it was all the students' idea.

Teacher Amanda Badali-Pagnotta said students in Propel's Law and Justice class have been learning the dangers of texting while driving and they wanted to do something that would really grab their classmates' attention.

“Eleven teens in America die every day from texting and driving,” she said. “So our students decided they needed to do something more than hanging a poster or having an assembly about it. They wanted to show how you can actually lose your friends from this and how someone you sit beside today could be gone tomorrow.”

During the demonstration, Munhall police blocked off the area surrounding the accident and Munhall Volunteer Fire Cos. 1 and 4 arrived to extricate the victims with the Jaws of Life.

Clark-Butler, who played the part of a front seat passenger ejected through the windshield, said “being dead” and seeing the spectacle surrounding the mock crash left an indelible mark on her — one she hopes was impressed upon her classmates, as well.

“Being dead and seeing my friends dead was pretty crazy and sad,” she said. “The majority of the people who are texting and driving are teens and I've texted while driving before maybe once or twice. But after this, I know I never will.”

Michael Sullivan, owner of Penn Hills-based Flagship Collision, which donated the car for the demonstration, said he sees an increasing number of accidents involving drivers distracted by texts.

“We now see maybe one or two accidents every week like this,” he said. “It's definitely a serious problem.”

After the cleanup, the students returned inside but the demonstration was far from over. For two periods, a student dressed as the Grim Reaper wandered into classrooms and tapped pre-selected students on the shoulder to represent teens who lose their lives to texting and driving. When the student returned to class, their face was painted and they were unable to communicate with anyone for the rest of the day.

Later in the afternoon, students tried a driving simulator that mimics the effects of texting behind the wheel, as well as watched a video and presentation from a representative of AT&T as part of the company's “It Can Wait” initiative.

Marcus Graham, manager of the AT&T location in the Waterfront, said he commends the students for planning the event.

“No text message is worth putting lives at risk,” Graham said. “We want to send a loud and clear message that texting while driving is deadly and can wait.”

Badali-Pagnotta said the goal of the event is to get 300 people to sign a pledge not to text and drive.

“We have just over 200 (students) in the school, so we're going to be reaching out to the community,” she said. “If just one person decides today to put down their phone while driving forever, then we've been successful.”

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