Deadly rehearsal

Retreat gives teens a harsh look at cost of drugs, violence

By KARL SCHWEIZER

Herald Writer

WARM BEACH — A group of area high school students got a stern reminder of the consequences of drunken driving Thursday as they witnessed the re-enactment of a horrifying car crash.

A young woman in a car had struck a pedestrian, then swerved into a tree. She ran about in hysterics as the pedestrian lay dead on the ground. In the car, two passengers remained trapped. Firefighters freed them, but it was too late for one passenger. The other was flown out, courtesy of a volunteered medical helicopter.

A Washington State Patrol trooper "arrested" the driver and took her away.

The "crash" was just one of the shocking things that more than 100 student and police participants saw Thursday at the YMCA Connections 2000 retreat at a Warm Beach conference center.

The annual retreat, now in its fifth year, is meant to teach young people about the consequences of drugs, drinking and domestic violence, retreat organizer Aaron Anderson said.

Area high school counselors invite leaders from every student group to attend. The idea is to ensure a cross-section of students, Anderson said.

The retreat’s other goals are to create understanding between police and youths, and to encourage young people to take action at their schools to curb social problems, said Anderson, who is also a teen services director for an Everett-area YMCA.

Organizers didn’t pull any punches in driving home the message about drinking and drugs.

Retreat participants learned about the dangers of drug abuse by viewing damaged organs brought in by a local nurse. Among the exhibits: the tongue of a tobacco user and a fetus born dead because of its mother’s drug use. Teen-agers also heard tapes of domestic violence calls to 911.

The afternoon car crash re-enactment was a visual warning against drunken driving.

It worked on Dan Driscoll, an Edmonds-Woodway High School sophomore who played the dead pedestrian.

"I hope this convinced people that drinking and driving is a bad thing. It convinced me," Driscoll said. "Don’t get into a car with a drunk driver, and don’t be a drunk driver."

The retreat isn’t about shock, though. Students meet in groups to talk about what they have seen. At the end of the retreat, they must devise a plan for combating the problems they learned about.

They also talk to police officers in an effort to get past stereotypes they have about each other.

"Police deal mainly with negative experiences. Unless we have children, we don’t get to see kids in a positive light," deputy Brent Speyer said.

Speyer, at his fourth Connections retreat, said the meetings help him have a better attitude about youths.

"Most of these kids will be productive members of society. And they’re fun. I actually have a good time with them," he said.

Mariner High School senior November Huff, 17, said the retreat helped her to like police more.

"I guess I had thought they were harder than they were," Huff said. "I saw their human side. These are some of the greatest people you will ever meet."

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