One El Campo High School teenager was killed, three injured Thursday in a drunk driving crash that, thankfully, was only part of an anti-teen drinking program presented in Ricebird Stadium.
Shattered Dreams is designed to keep the hopes of youngsters alive by showing them in somewhat graphic detail the possible consequences of a poor decision.
“The crash scene was as real as it gets,” Wharton County Sheriff Shannon Srubar said. “I believe this caught the attention of every single person in that stadium. As some might not take the program seriously, there is without a doubt in my mind that the program does educate on the consequences of drinking and driving and many students took the message to heart.”
Sitting in the home stands, students saw the two-vehicle crash starting from the point seconds after impact.
A teenage girl lay face down on the turf, ejected from one of the vehicles, not moving with an obvious head wound. A teenage boy lay sprawled on the hood of a vehicle, thrown through the windshield. Others still sat in the vehicles.
The drunk driver, yet another teen, meanwhile stumbled from person to person at times sobbing, other times screaming for help, until police arrived.
“I have always thought the Shattered Dreams event was a very worthy event ... it can take your breath away, to see and hear the reality drives it home,” El Campo Police Chief Terry Stanphill said, adding it’s too early to know the overall effect of the program. “I think it is a good start that needs to be reinforced at home. Now is a great time for parents and family members to have a very hard conversation with their kids. Turn the TV and cell phones off and discuss it while they have a chance.”
In the stands, students watched as El Campo EMTs arrived to treat the wounded along with volunteer firefighters directed by Assistant Chief Kevin Bubela to provide rescue operations.
For him and all firefighters, efforts are done in the hope they just might make a difference.
“The Shattered Dreams was by far the most amazing and fulfilling program that I have had the privilege to be a part of,” Bubela said. “I am convinced 100 percent that we impacted many students and parents. Our goal is to have the students and parents spread the word to others to make the proper choices and decisions so we don’t have to experience the consequences of drinking and driving. This was the first time that I was involved in the entire two day event, and it impacted me as a parent and as a first responder. Pam Hunt was absolutely amazing in putting this project together.”
The stands were especially quiet as paramedic Mike Giesalhart draped a sheet over the girl on the turf, the final sign that nothing can be done to help.
“No one ever intends to get involved in one of these tragic events, but it still happens. No one plans on driving intoxicated or getting in a car with someone who is intoxicated but it happens. Talking about precautions and alternatives now can help prevent a tragic event in the future. Don’t talk about it once but continue talking about it to where it becomes second nature,” Stanphill said.
And, the chief said, understand that the fatal scene presented to students is exactly why officers make efforts to deter drunk drivers.
People have “accused the department of trying to hand out DWIs and ask(ed), ‘Don’t the cops have something better to do.’ ... To me, every time ECPD or any other law enforcement agency arrests someone for DWI, they are possibly saving one or my lives. I can’t think of a better thing for law enforcement to be doing.
“I’ve been on all sides of these tragic events. I’ve put hand cuffs on suspected DWI’s, intoxication manslaughter suspects, been in the courtroom when a convicted suspect has been sentenced to prison time and I’ve delivered death messages to families. None of it is fun. There are no winners. ECPD will do everything we can to deter intoxicated drivers and get those that decide to drive intoxicated off the streets of El Campo,” Stanphill said.
Thursday, after rescue workers rushed students playing the part of victims off to El Campo Memorial Hospital for additional treatment, students watched as police officers had the driver go through assorted tests used when drunk driving is suspected.
Walking with one foot directly in front of the other for a short distance, for example.
They then watched as the boy was handcuffed and placed into a police cruiser, told he was under arrest for intoxication manslaughter.
Later they would be able to see portions of the booking process. In a real case, a driver would face up to 20 years in prison for the offense.
“Through education and enforcement I pray that we can prevent future “shattered dreams.” I hope we as a community can come together and help one another to prevent crashes that cause such loss and devastation,” Srubar said.
Event organizer Pam Hunt agreed.
“My brother was killed in an alcohol related car crash and his dreams were shattered,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to experience the pain that never goes away ... I have received a lot of positive feedback from students, parents, and teachers. Shattered Dreams will always be a memory that I will never forget and my prayer is that it will stop students from driving under the influence.”