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Bladen Operation Safe Summer teaches valuable lessons in time for summer

By: Erin Smith

All it takes is a split second, and your life can be drastically changed forever. Students at East Bladen High School and West Bladen High School learned that valuable lesson Friday as they witnessed Bladen Operation Safe Summer.

The Bladen County Sheriff’s Office,  Elizabethtown, White Lake, and Bladenboro Police Departments, North Carolina State Highway Patrol, Bladen Emergency Management, Bladen County Hospital, Ace Wrecker, Bladen EMS, Gaskins Funeral Home, Mr. Dennis Troy, Cory Hester, and several other volunteers presented the program called Bladen Operation Safe Summer to the students.

Atlas McVicker with the North Carolina Highway Patrol said that about one and one-half months ago, the Highway Patrol sat down with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office and decided it was time to start doing something like this in Bladen County. McVicker said that the group met with the Bladen County Board of Education and Bladen County Schools Superintendent Robert Taylor and his staff were very supportive of the idea.

McVicker said, “We want a summer with no fatalities.”

Trooper K. Freeman added, “We want them to make the right decisions.”

Ms. Clark, an Assistant Principal with East Bladen High School said, “It is basically teaching the students and demonstrating to the students safety for driving and being responsible and consequences of what happens in life.”

The program was developed after room night when sirens were going off about the time the students should be on the highways. This began a conversation and Bladen Operation Safe Summer was born. Student volunteers at both East Bladen and West Bladen High Schools were used.

A video was created that depicts what happens from the a fatal crash occurs until the final court decision is reached.

At both schools, a mock motor vehicle crash was staged on the track at each school and students could witness how each agency responds and performs their job. During the mock crash, student volunteers at each school acted out the roles of the crash victims and the impaired driver.

At each school students gave statistics involving motor vehicle crashes in North Carolina. The idea is to demonstrate to the students what can happen when you drive while you are distracted, the dangers of texting and driving and the dangers of impaired driving.

The students were then shown a video which depicted teenagers skipping school and drinking and having fun. The video depicts the teens deciding to get into a vehicle and travel to another location then a crash occurs.

The students then went to the football field and sat in the bleachers and The students watched quietly watched as the scenario unfolded before them. They were able to observe as the various agencies responded to the scene of a single-vehicle crash and began to tend to the victims. The student volunteers were made up using wax-based paint to depict their various injuries.

As the fire departments arrived on the scene and began to free the victims pinned inside the car, the Bladen County EMS crews worked to load the victims into the waiting ambulances. Law enforcement officers arrived on the scene and began to interview “witnesses” and the “driver” of the car.

After the victims were freed from the vehicle and the ambulances had “left the scene,” the student filed back inside to watch the rest of the video. The video depicts what happens in the back of the ambulance and at the hospital as the the EMTs and medical staff at the hospital fight to save a young wreck victim’s life.

The video also depicts what happens to the impaired driver as she is interviewed by the Trooper and subsequently arrested and charged. Finally, the video depicts what happens as the case is tried.

There was also a mock funeral for the crash victim that was killed.

Dennis Troy spoke to the kids and gave the eulogy for the funeral.

“The struggle is real when it comes to drinking and driving and texting. It could easily happen to you,” said Troy.

Following the video, Mike and Tina Rossi spoke to the students and talked about their own tragic loss of their son, John Rossi.

“It is not only bad people who make bad decisions. Good people can make bad decisions,” said Mike Rossi.

He recounted the night that his son John was killed in a crash involving an impaired driver. Mike Rossi said that on January 23, 2010, John made a decision to get into a car with an impaired driver. He said the car left the road and struck some trees, snapping them off, and killing John.

“Those decisions you make at the time don’t seem so bad, but can put your parents through agony,” said John Rossi.

His wife, Tina, spoke as well. She said the family had moved form Massachusetts to Wilmington and that the home they moved into, there were two ways to reach the school. She said one road over the bridge that crosses over I-40 and the second route was to take the main road. Tina Rossi said she had a bad feeling about the bridge and encouraged her children to always travel the main road.

“On January 23, 2010, my son lost his life going over that bridge,” said Tina Rossi.

She described the night the Trooper knocked on her door to inform her of her son’s death. Tina Rossi said that her youngest son had two friends staying the night and they were asleep on the couch in the living room.

She said when the Trooper arrived and broke the news to her, the young boys on the couch were awakened by her screaming.

After the program, Bladen County Commissioner Charles Ray Peterson said, “I thought it was great from a parent side of it. It brought tears to my eyes. No one wants to hear that knock on the door.”

Bladen County Schools Public Relations Director Valerie Newton said, “It was incredible. I think there was some uncertainty at first for the students. They realized, it could happen to them.”

Bladen County Sheriff Jim McVicker said, “I’m very pleased. I think everybody did a great job.”

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