A look of shock showed on the faces of Hays High seniors Damian Fiscal, Kayler Erwin and Breanna Rodriguez as they were each doused with varying amounts of syrupy fake blood Thursday.
The concoction, part of the Hollywood-style effect of the Shattered Dreams program, stained clothes and wasn’t exactly comfortable.
But for the three and many others who took part in the event, what it all signified – the fake blood, the wrecked vehicles – was a chance to hit home to this generation the realities of drinking and distracted driving.
Shattered Dreams, which began in Hays CISD in 2001, is a program meant to raise awareness and deter drinking and driving among teens, said Hays County Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Beth Smith.
She brought the program to Hays CISD after reading Wimberley ISD was having a similar program in 2000. After watching the program with her daughters, Smith talked district officials into organizing their own program.
Ever since then, Smith has helped organize Shattered Dreams, which is funded entirely through sponsorships. Smith said she has been involved in eight Shattered Dreams programs, with five of those at Hays High and four at Lehman High, which opened in 2004.
The program consists of two experiences. The first involves a mock accident scene involving teen actors who experience a fatal drinking and driving collision. To make it as real as possible, Smith enlists the help of various law enforcement and emergency officials who handle such incidents on a daily basis.
The second experience extends to the aftermath of the accident and reaction of those who participated in the event.
Smith said 24 to 25 students are chosen to participate and are selected through an application process. Certain aspects are considered when students are selected.
Many become the “living dead,” which signify teens who die in alcohol-related accidents. Those students are pulled out of class by a “grim reaper” and helper. In some Shattered Dreams programs, a uniformed officer announces the mock death of that student and reads an obituary that is prewritten. That student then goes back to class, but is not allowed to speak to classmates.
A select few are chosen to participate in the accident scene. One student, who is the “drunk driver,” is arrested and taken to jail. Others are victims who either “die” at the scene, or are transported to a hospital.
Smith said some students who participate have parents who may be alcoholics, or know a family member or friend who has been in, or has died of, an alcohol-related accident.
Fiscal, who played the role of a victim in the crash scene, said he opted to participate as the experience hit close to home.
“It’s cool because I have a lot of family members who have been in a lot of accidents because of drinking and driving,” Fiscal said about being a part of the Shattered Dreams experience.
To prepare for the actual accident scene, Smith enlists the help of makeup artists, and Hays CISD graduates, Jon Claeton and Andrew DeLeon.
The two work to make the victims in the accident look as authentic as possible. DeLeon, who has volunteered in four Shattered Dreams, said he researches bodily injuries associated with car accidents to ensure the makeup he applies is as realistic as possible. The focus is to provide a more visceral impact on students, DeLeon said.
Claeton, who is heavily involved in recovery programs and has worked in commercial haunted houses, has participated in Hays CISD Shattered Dreams since 2001. Claeton said he’s seen “way too many” people die from drinking and driving.
“We want to wake someone up and make sure they don’t do this for real,” Claeton said.
Erwin said it was “intense” to be transformed into an accident victim and “just seeing the injuries come to life.”
“It’s very scary for me. I’m not dead, but if this was real, this is terrifying, knowing this happens to people all of the time,” Erwin said.
Experiencing the scene was equally intense for all involved. Both Rodriguez and Erwin, who were inside of the wrecked cars, heard the sounds of emergency officials using the jaws of life to “extricate them.”
Erwin said she wasn’t quite sure how to act during that time. Rodriguez said one of the more daunting aspects was getting zipped into a body bag.
“I was scared. The glass was coming down on me, there was noise everywhere,” Rodriguez said. “Even though it was a mock accident, it felt so real.”
Smith said the effectiveness of the program remains even with today’s tech savvy society. One aspect is to incorporate the dangers of texting and driving, which has been done for several years.
Another is the impact felt by the participants and their parents. Smith said those who take part in Shattered Dreams are taken away to a retreat afterward where they talk about their experiences. Smart phones are taken away and they have no contact with their families, unless it is an emergency. They then write letters to their parents and vice versa, explaining what life would be like without them.
Smith said interest also remains, as parents asked about the 2017 program, which almost didn’t happen due to the size of the student population at Hays. DeLeon said he hopes the program provides an impact to students.
“Every one of them is different, each has a different impact,” Smith said. “I hope it saves one of these lives. I don’t know, we’ll never know, if it did.”
See photos from Shattered Dreams here.
(photos by Moses Leos III)