There were moments when Zach Wimmegren, who just months ago was smiling onstage at the homecoming king, had to remind himself it wasn’t real.
“I kept cracking jokes with the deputy between takes, because it kind of gets to you,” Wimmegren said.
Tuesday, a mere five days before his senior prom, Wimmegren was the central actor in a mock crash demonstration and follow-up video that showed his fellow classmates the dangers of drinking and driving on prom night. For an added point, Wimmergren admitted to deputies during the demonstration he had been texting while driving, as well.
The demonstration, shown bi-annually to juniors and seniors (so every class sees it once) held nothing out of the ordinary. Nearly every school in the Twin Cities metro does it: an accident scene is staged. One girl is dead (in this case, homecoming queen Amanda Koep) after going through the windshield. A small boy has been thrown from the car. An enraged father (teacher Tate Nagengast in a convincing role) confronts both driver and a sober passenger (Tanner Wallace) who wails, “I told you I could have drove!”
A follow-up video, though, shown in the school’s performing arts center, had the room so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.
In the production, created by teacher Jox Metcalf and his broadcast media students, Wimmegren is booked, processed and placed in a holding cell. During the interview, he’s told that Koep was dead at the scene and another boy is critically injured. He breaks down in tears.
“There were times where I was crying during the mock crash,” Koep said. “I couldn’t see what was going on, but the emotion is there. It’s scary to think that this happens every year.”
It’s been an especially emotional year, students said, with two deaths and a teacher murdered.
“It would be that one more thing,” Sara Jean, another actor, said. “We’ve been through so much, as a class, already. We don’t want to see this happen Saturday night.”
The Class of 2012 has experience grief and loss every year of its high school career, Wallace said.
“We could name someone from each grade, each year,” Wallace said. “I think the message is that this is something that doesn’t have to happen.”
Speakers Tom Kelly, the current Wright County Attorney, and driver Karen Dieterman, whose “distracted driving” caused a fatal accident 16 years ago, reinforced that message.
“What you saw wasn’t an accident. It was a crash. And it could have been prevented,” Kelly said. “The choices you make … the best bet you have for making it through life is you. It comes down to you.”