Gravestones at Marion Cemetery and overcast skies set a somber backdrop April 8 as Marion High School students heard the personal toll drinking and driving has taken on people they know.
Students in the MHS SAFE club wanted something different from the typical personal responsibility presentations that have become commonplace in high schools.
“Different” started when the students were bused to the open area on the east side of the cemetery to witness emergency responders working a mock drunk driving accident.
Peabody EMT Larry Larsen described the unfolding activity as responders from Marion ambulance, fire, and police departments, and sheriff’s department arrived and took care of the injured. A hearse from Zeiner Funeral Home carried one victim away.
With the stage set, the students and emergency responders reconvened at the performing arts center, where Lori McLinden offered the first bit of a personal touch by explaining why she sponsors the SAFE club.
“I do it because I was in a rollover accident and a seatbelt saved my life and my daughter’s life,” McLinden said.
Marion police officer Duane McCarty’s strong voice faltered during his comments.
“One thing I do not like to do is come up on a wreck with some child I know, or anyone I know. I’ve had to tell …,” his voice trailed off.
As he stood in silence, Florence EMT Loretta Looney, sitting beside him, reached for McCarty’s hand. He looked down at her as he continued.
“I had to tell her mom and dad about her sister dying in a wreck,” McCarty said, fighting back tears. “Her sister was one of my best friends, and I was a first responder.”
The students responded with supportive applause.
When Jackie Palic came to the stage, accompanied by her son, Adam, to talk in public for the first time about his 2010 car wreck for the first time, it got more personal still for the students — sons Kyle, a senior, and Tyler, a freshman, are their classmates. Adam was 17 when his car ran off a county road and struck a tree at about 3 a.m. Nov. 13.
A picture of the wreck, followed by pictures of Adam in intensive care and surgical repairs to his body, flashed on a screen behind Jackie. She described in detail her experiences as she lived through the ordeal of the accident, emergency surgery to save one of his legs and repair other severe injuries, Adam’s rehabilitation in a Kansas City head injury facility, and another 12 trips to the hospital and five surgeries after he came home.
“There was not an air bag in the car, there was not a seat belt on him,” Jackie said. “There’s a good chance he would not have been in the shape he was had he had his seat belt on.
“Don’t think any one of you are immune. How many times did my son tell me, ‘I’m a good driver, Mom, don’t worry about me.’”
Adam also spoke briefly, reinforcing the message of responsible decision-making.
“Don’t make the mistakes I made,” he said.
Afterward, Jackie said she hoped sharing her story would make a difference.
“I’m just praying they listened, that they understand that their choices they make today will affect them and the people they love for the rest of their lives,” she said. “It may be that choice of texting and driving, or drinking with a friend, or crawling into that vehicle with somebody who is drinking, it will affect them for the rest of their lives, and they have to understand they were created for so much more than that.”