Fatal re-enactment is realistic reminder of what everyone wants to avoid
CANANDAIGUA — A young woman stood outside of the car screaming hysterically, blood on her face and staining her beautiful crimson prom gown.
The blood of her boyfriend streaked across the hood of the car, leaving a trail from the windshield he crashed through before landing in the road where he lay dying, bleeding profusely from his head.
Other girls were screaming too. Even a young man, dressed sharply in a gray tuxedo, held his head in his hands.
On a hill overlooking the very realistic scene sat a couple of hundred Canandaigua Academy high school seniors watching what — fortunately — was a similulation of what police, emergency workers and school officials know all too well is often a very real tragic consequence of impaired or distracted driving, particularly during spring prom season.
In fact, after the hourlong event, Superintendent Jamie Farr tweeted some photos, noting he has been to “way too many funerals” for students, “beautiful young adults,” pleading with them “to make the safe choice.”
Prevention Services Specialist Cynthia Vanderlee said the district hosts the multiagency demonstration annually to raise awareness of drunken, drugged and distracted driving, and the importance of wearing a seatbelt.
The student actors, using their real names, starkly played the parts of high school seniors on prom night.
A sobering scene
In this scenario, a car driven by Leanne Schneiter is involved in a head-on collision with another car at 11:35 p.m. on Western Boulevard in the city, as narrated by real-life Canandaigua Police Officer Matt McGrath.
“The silence of a warm spring evening is interrupted by the sound of approaching vehicles from opposite directions,” he tells the students, as colleagues move vehicles to reveal the grisly scene of two actual cars, their front ends melded together; with the body of Quentin Wall lying on the ground, yet to be covered by arriving police, Canandaigua firefighters and members of the Canandaigua Emergency Squad.
“We just came from the dance,” Schneiter anguishedly tells Officer John Jordan between bouts of tears. “We were going to my house. I didn't see the car. I didn't see them.”
Jordan says he smells alcohol on her breath and references the empty beer bottles at the scene.
“I only had a couple,” Schneiter cries. “I had a few beers. I had one in my hand.”
As Jordan administers field sobriety tests, emergency workers cover the body of Wall and use the Jaws of Life extraction tool to gain access to injured people in the other vehicle, two friends of Schneiter and Wall.
Schneiter is led away in handcuffs by Jordan; Griffin Hedworth, a passenger in the second car, is placed on a gurney and into a waiting ambulance; and funeral directors Bob Fuller and Bob Fuller II help load the body of Wall into a white hearse.
“We will have to notify the parents and let them know what happened,” McGrath says. “Vehicle accidents are the No. 1 cause of death for people your age — teenagers. About 25 percent involve driving while impaired or driving while under the influence.”
He notes such accidents are also traumatic for first responders who will have to live with what they've witnessed for the rest of their lives.
The gathering moves inside to the school auditorium where Jordan brings Schneiter before Canandaigua City Court Judge Stephen Aronson in a makeshift courtroom set up on stage. There she is informed she is charged with criminally negligent homicide, vehicular manslaughter, driving while intoxicated and some vehicle and traffic counts.
“You are going to be held without bail and sent to jail,” Aronson informs the young woman who is still trembling, somewhat in shock. “Officer, you may take her away.”
The curtain closes and rises on another scene — an improvised emergency room where Dr. John Nichols, a retired emergency medicine physician, informs Hedworth's stunned parents — Police Chief Stephen and Jennie Hedworth — about the serious brain injury from which their son may not fully recover.
In the next scene, Greg and Susan Wall are crying over the casket of their son as Fuller II tells them to take all the time they need for their final goodbyes, a flatlining whine heard subtly in the background.
“I don't know how I'm going to manage,” Mrs. Wall cries. “I love you.”
In the darkness, the ghostly voice of an unseen Quentin Wall talks about his short life and how he expected to become a doctor and raise a family, his love of joke telling forever silenced.
“I knew Leanne had a little bit to drink,” he laments. “I didn't think about the consequences. I was too busy having fun. Eighteen years all snuffed out because I decided to be a dumbass and not take her keys. It shouldn't have happened.”
McGrath appears, telling the students he hoped the presentation had an impact on them and got them thinking.
The Canandaigua Academy Senior Ball is June 2 at Casa Larga in Perinton.
"It's all about being safe"
McGrath told the students authorities want them to have fun at their prom, to celebrate their accomplishments during 12 years of school. He said he hoped they wouldn't drink, but if they do, to have a backup plan.
“It's all about being safe, responsible and healthy,”: he said. "We would prefer you not drink, but if you find yourself in that position where you can't drive, you shouldn't drive. You have to have a Plan B.”
He suggested calling a counselor, parent, friend or even 911.
“An officer or a deputy will get you home safely,” he said. “It's not about getting you in trouble. It's about making sure you live to see another day. So, please enjoy the rest of your senior year. Please be safe. Please be responsible.”
School counselors were available to assist any students impacted by the graphic portrayal.
Other student actors were Lauren LaBarge and Drew Glitch, as passengers in Schneiter's car; and Era Gjonbalaj, driver of the other car in which Griffin Hedworth was injured.
Cars were loaned by Fox's Auto.
Vanderlee also gave kudos to Canandaigua Theatrical Arts Director Scott Schauman and Toby Derrig, a former student responsible for the authentic makeup; Matt Rodgers, audio-visual assistant; the Buildings and Grounds Department; high school resource officer Lon Sanford; Ontario County Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Henderson, who filled his real-life role of county coroner; and members of the Ontario County 911 Center.