Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Shattered Dreams

On March 12, a drunken-driving simulation known as Shattered Dreams was presented in front of Stratford High School. As a result of this highly dramatic, staged accident, all campus juniors and seniors got a street-level view of what occurs when eight high school students they sit next to in classrooms each and every day are suddenly killed or are badly injured.

The event began as three students wandered upon the scene at 9:00 a.m. and called an ambulance on the Stratford PA system. Soon after, juniors and seniors streamed out of class and onto Fern Street to observe the wreck.

Of the eight students in the cars, two were pronounced dead at the scene, two were taken by ambulance to Ben Taub Trauma Center, one was life-flighted to Ben Taub, and three others were critically injured.

The drunk driver was arrested and taken to the Harris County courthouse where he was charged with two counts of manslaughter.

The staged accident that took place on Fern in front of the campus is presented every two years through collaboration with Shattered Dreams and the Harris Health System. Local police, ambulance, helicopter, morgue, and hospital volunteers also played a large role in putting on the event. The Shattered Dreams program exists to warn students about the dangers of drunk driving.

In addition to the live simulation, a student was pulled out from class or lunch every 15 minutes throughout the day to represent an American who dies every 15 minutes as a result of drinking and driving. By the end of the school day, 29 students at Stratford High were pronounced dead including those from the outdoor accident.

Unlike previous years, one of the cars involved in the accident was designated as the drunk-driving car while the other held a driver who was texting when the wreck occurred. The addition of texting while driving was made to highlight a currently legal habit that has caused thousands of wrecks, and taken many lives across all age groups.

However, drunk driving was the main focus on Friday, March 13, when Stratford’s juniors and seniors gathered in the competition gym for assembly after all students involved in Shattered Dreams returned from Ben Taub Trauma Center where they had spent the night.

Students heard three different people who’d been affected by drunk driving speak, two of whom are Stratford Spartans. Math teacher William Hall spoke about his mother, father, and brother who were all killed by a drunk driver when he was just a kid.

In contrast, a recent Stratford graduate discussed how her decision to drive drunk resulted in the death of her best friend, and a conviction for involuntary manslaughter.

Hearing from a driver and a person whose family was taken by a drunk driver showed students that driving under the influence doesn't just affect the people injured or killed. It affects anyone who has relationships with those people.

This week on Thursday, April 3, and Friday, April 4, all juniors and seniors at Memorial High School will take part in a separate Shattered Dreams presentation that will include a staged, outdoor car wreck and a Friday assembly.

Stratford High student newspaper Editor-in-Chief, Kali Venable, who has worked for two years as an SBISD Communications Dept. intern, filed this report after she personally experienced Shattered Dreams.

As an event participant, she was declared “dead on scene or D.O.S”  in the Shattered Dreams simulation.
Included below is her first-person account of Shattered Dreams.

Shattered Dreams: A personal account on a series of tragic events
Kali Venable

I never thought I’d experience the claustrophobia of a body bag given that its enclosure is typically reserved for the dead, the lifeless. But on Thursday, March 12, I slowed my breathing and tried to move as little as possible while EMS volunteers zipped me up into one and loaded me into a hearse. 

The car accident was a drunk driving simulation known as Shattered Dreams, and we were just playing roles like actors in a play. Yet, in the midst of trying to see through the thick black lining of a bag that felt entirely too small and listening to the cries of my own mother, a morbid sense came over me. For a mere moment everything about the day felt unrehearsed, unplanned and real. 

Stratford High junior and senior classes had the opportunity to witness the wreck and attend the Friday morning assembly, but only those involved in Shattered Dreams had the chance to spend the night at Ben Taub Trauma Center in the Texas Medical Center. 

We see critically injured people on TLC and in TV shows like “Greys Anatomy,” but watching them moan in pain or lie perfectly still on a bed in front of you is an entirely different experience, one I cannot put into words. 

All I know is that what I witnessed at Ben Taub wasn't a simulation. The wounds weren't made with adhesive and the blood wasn't peppermint flavored. Some of the patients I saw will never be able to walk, see, talk or smell again and a few will probably never see the world outside that trauma center in this lifetime.  

Making rounds with trauma center nurses and surgeons to the intensive care unit, operating rooms and shock rooms made me thankful for the healthy life I've got, but more importantly made me realize how fragile it is. 

We’re young, not just in age, but also by the amount of life we've got left to live. There are so many things for us to see, learn, and experience. We have dreams to chase and mistakes to make — we don’t have time to throw away or lose because of someone else’s mistake, better yet our own. 

We hear a lot of people say “It’ll never happen to me,” or “I am good at driving drunk, I promise.” But both statements are ignorant and pose the idea that a person can be invincible. 

No one is good at drunk driving and having experience as a drunk driver doesn’t make you a better one or any less prone to cause a wreck. I saw people who swore it would never happen to them. They were lying in hospital beds with tubes traveling in every which direction and are real flesh examples that the unthinkable happens everyday. 

I wish I could say that all drunk-driving accidents are actually accidental, but I don’t believe that is the case. Each and every alcohol-related wreck can be prevented by simple decisions based on legal and moral beliefs that we all have. 

No one can look himself or herself in the mirror and say they’d be okay with being at fault for the injury or death of another person. 

Yet, people make the mistake of going out without a sober driver, getting in the car with a person who isn't trustworthy enough to be a designated driver, or even worse, being the designated driver and not having the willpower to refrain from drinking. 

Sometimes it is seems easier to just let things unfold and decide later after being at the concert, party or other such event where drinking is taking place. But the fact of the matter is that no one can make good judgment after a night on the town, especially after impairing rational thoughts with alcohol. Making arrangements in advance can irritate friends and feel stressful, but it’s the only way to insure that you’ll get home without having to put your life or other peoples in danger because of drinking and driving. 

The character I played in Shattered Dreams was not the drunk driver, but she’s someone we know all too well. We see her in our peers at parties, in the faces of people we love; some of us even see her in ourselves.  

She represents a person who is too scared to take someone’s keys away because being a rule-follower has never been the cool thing to do and believing that when they say they’re fine, they’re fine, is easier than not. 

But the thing is, someone who makes the conscious choice to let another person drive drunk is just as much at fault as the person behind the wheel. 

 I am ashamed to say I've been this person before even though I know that a lot of my peers have, too. But I’d rather focus on the fact that after playing a part in Shattered Dreams I will never not take precautions to prevent such tragedies regardless of how it might make me look to other people. 

It has been two weeks since Shattered Dreams but I still remember the sterile smell of that body bag and the way my stomach dropped when I realized that the people who end up in accidents like the one we simulated don’t get to walk away from them. 

The hardest part of this experience has been finding a way to accept that some people won’t value the Shattered Dreams program until it’s too late, until they've made the decision to drink and drive, the car is flipping, and they can’t turn back. 

Knowing that I won’t be one of them doesn't make it any easier to imagine one of my peers standing where a Stratford graduate* stood in the competition gym on Friday, March 13, during the Shattered Dreams assembly. 

When she spoke to us the night prior at Ben Taub, there was a point when her composure completely deteriorated. I watched her eyelashes uncontrollably bat tears, it was apparent that she lost a part of herself when she got behind that wheel more than 10 years ago. 

Even now I can hear her saying “It doesn't go away,” and I can feel the regret in her voice. 

That single statement makes it impossible for me to ever accept that a Stratford student or any adolescent for that matter can drink and drive when it is never the only option. 

Houston has the highest number of drunk drivers on the road in the nation, don’t be one of them. 

 * For privacy reasons, this Stratford graduate prefers to remain anonymous outside of speaking engagements.


  1. These crisis actors were a lot more convincing than the ones at the Boston Bombing exercise. Very dramatic... good job!

  2. I heard about that event a couple of times before. I salute the creators of that dramatic presentation. It helps raise the awareness of the tragedy behind drunk driving. Hopefully, it reached out to a lot of hearts, and will help lessen crimes involving DUI. Thank you for sharing that with us!

    Kim Hunter


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