by Geoff Fox
If you drove by Hancock Middle-Senior High School last Thursday, May 18, you might have noticed a cluster of first responders in the back parking lot attending to a vehicle accident.
Yes, they were responding to an accident, but it wasn’t a real one. The gathering was a demonstration to show juniors and seniors the consequences of distracted driving and driving under the influence.
Senior Brianna Buskirk, who is also a member of Hancock Rescue Squad, arranged the event.
The school had put on similar Prom Promise demonstrations before, but after the last one a few years ago, Buskirk said it was “kind of over.”
As a young person in EMS and still in high school, Buskirk said she wanted a way to prevent accidents happening to people she knows and those in the community she isn’t familiar with.
Buskirk used her connections to organizations in Hancock, including the Rescue Squad to get their participation, going to the Fire Department to use their tools in case something were to happen during the demonstration.
“Overall, I had a lot of help with the community as a whole because everybody thought it was an important cause and we all wanted to protect everybody in our community and keep it from happening,” Buskirk said.
The demonstration was treated as a real response and the call was broadcast over the scanner, meaning anyone listening to a scanner would have heard a call for 289 West High Street, the high school’s address, for Company 5 and Company 59 to respond.
The demonstration is considered a public service, so dispatch was contacted to do a simulation call.
First responders at the high school were on a different tact on their radios as to not interfere with any real 911 calls going on in Washington County.
But before students could see the first responders in action, students gathered in the school’s auditorium to hear two personal stories of how distracted driving changed two local residents’ lives after separate accidents a year apart.
The first was Greg Yost who lost his daughter in a car accident in 2014.
“My daughter walked across this stage in 2004 graduating,” he said. “About 10 years later, you’ll see what she did, her poor decisions, and what happened.”
Yost presented a small presentation with headlines from local and national stories where people were injured or killed in accidents as a result of distracted driving as well as various statistics on distracted/DUI accidents and teens killed or injured in accidents. Yost also showed a dramatic representation of an accident caused by distracted driving.
During his presentation, Yost also talked about his daughter’s 2014 crash, showing a picture of her vehicle at the scene, and a current picture of her in an urn in Yost’s bedroom.
“That’s what we have. Don’t let it happen to you,” he told the students.
Yost is a member Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association. Before students entered the auditorium, they were given pamphlets from that group and from Maryland Department of Transportation.
Yost talked about the “Move Over, Slow Down” laws in Maryland and across the nation.
He also talked about being a “D” driver — a distracted, drugged, dangerous, disturbed, distinguished, driver-less, drunk, drowsy, disgruntled, drag racer, developing, and “too often, dead” drivers.
Yost said they’ve also added “just plain dumb” to the list.
Yost said his daughter always said it wouldn’t happen to her and he could see the same expression on the teens in the audience.
“You’re all thinking the same thing, It’s not going to happen to me,’” Yost said. “It can. And the more you do it, the more you distracted driving drunken driving, the better the odds are that it will happen to you.”
Debbie Cohill followed Yost’s presentation with a story and photos of an accident near D.C. that changed not only her life, but that of her husband as well.
“I can tell you, I guess I’m allowed to say it, it’s pure hell when your life has been turned upside down and you feel so helpless,” Cohill said.
In 2015, Cohill’s husband, John, was riding his motorcycle to work in the early hours of a Monday morning near Frederick when a 20-year old woman hit John Cohill, who was severely injured.
After the wreck, Cohill said John didn’t know who she was except that she was his wife, didn’t know their last name or address, and didn’t know where she worked. She added it took shock trauma hours to even find her to tell her what was going on.
Debbie Cohill called Hancock Police because she couldn’t find or get in touch with her husband and it took Sgt. Rich Miller calling the
Maryland State Police to find out about the accident.
“Every single day since then, my life has been different,” she said.
Cohill detailed how John had to stay in shock trauma for 10 days, memory problems from brain injuries, and leg injuries.
“While he didn’t die, the John that I knew died,” Cohill said of the changes her husband suffered from the accident.
Cohill said her husband used to be a world traveler and gave examples of some of the places he’s gone, but now he sits in his chair at home instead.
After Cohill’s presentation, students were directed outside to the school’s side parking lot for the first responders’ demonstration.
Units from Hancock Rescue Squad, Hancock Fire Department, and Hancock Police Department were staged in front of the school before the assembly started.
In the parking lot was a car with a hole in its windshield, a large dent in the driver side door, debris from the car, a passenger in the vehicle, and two victims on the ground. The victims were portrayed by students while the passenger in the car was a dummy.
As students gathered on the sidewalk outside the gymnasium, Washington County Dispatch toned out a call for an accident at 289 West Main Street for Company 5 and Company 59 across the scanner.
The students watched as the first responders arrived on scene and began assessing the scene and helping the two patients.
Hancock Police Officer Shawn Faith assisted and gave Cohill a sobriety test, which she “failed” and was “arrested” as part of the demonstration.
EMTs worked on the two patients, one of which was pronounced deceased at the scene and a cloth draped over them. Another team of first responders worked to cut the top of the vehicle off so they could rescue the victim in the front seat.
After the incident was concluded, Hancock Rescue Squad Chief Steve Barnhart and Simulation Command Keith Hose from Hancock Fire Department explained what happened and answered questions.
Buskirk, who was on the sidewalk giving a little play-by-play to her fellow students, said she hopes her classmates got something out of the demonstration.
“I really hope seeing both the demonstration and hearing from people’s point of views that have actually experienced this that it’ ll kind of stick with them and they’ll think about that before prom.”