After ordering food at a fast food restaurant, a car full of Payson High School students zips down the road, yelling and joking with each other. The driver does not see the oncoming car until one of the girls in the car screams out.
It is too late and the white vehicles are left a tangled mess. Several motionless bodies lay on the ground outside the vehicles, with several students still trapped inside.
Senior Paula Scott is among the dead. Scott got the weird chance to attend her own funeral Friday as part of Payson High School’s Project Ignition.
Later at an assembly, one woman captured the attention of the entire auditorium with her real life tale of watching her sister die in a car crash.
The day of sobering activities was organized to get students’ attention before they find themselves in similar situations.
At Scott’s memorial service, students watch a slideshow of Scott’s vibrant life cut short as her casket sits at the front of the auditorium.
Speakers Josh Leonard and Jed Ward ask students if they are willing to lose another Paula to distracted driving.
“Don’t be stupid on the road, just don’t,” Leonard said.
“Let Paula’s death be a lesson that distracted driving does kill,” Tyler McMinimy said.
While the accident and memorial service were simulated, the deadly scene has happened all too often.
“In the last three years I have been at this school, I have been to three funerals for teachers and students who died in vehicle-related accidents,” said PHS teacher Shelly Camp and Project Ignition organizer.
“When you are driving, remember you are driving a lethal weapon.”
Put down the cell phone, turn down the music and make good choices behind the wheel, Camp said.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for more than one in three deaths. In 2009, eight teens, ages 16 to 19, died every day from motor vehicle injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cara Filler’s sister is among those statistics.
In 1994, Cara’s identical twin sister Mairin Johnston was killed in a violent motor vehicle crash.
Cara was driving behind the sports car Mairin was in and watched her sister and best friend die on scene.
Cara urged PHS students Friday afternoon to make another choice when they find themselves in a car with a distracted driver, so they won’t end up like her sister.
“She died because she made a bad choice,” Cara said. “If just one of you hears this message today, then my time has been worth it.”
Cara’s worst nightmare happened the day after her 18th birthday and four days before she and Mairin were to start college.
Cara and Mairin had gone to the mall for an interview at the Disney store.
Up until then, everything in their life had taken a similar course. From the horrible ’80s outfits they had to wear as children to the teasing they endured most of their lives due to their towering frames.
The sisters did everything together, secure knowing they had each other’s backs.
But, when they left the mall that day, everything changed.
Cara jumped in the family’s minivan, while Mairin got into her new boyfriend’s black Nissan sports car.
Mairin sped away with her boyfriend of a week, leaving Cara in a cloud of dust.
Three blocks later, Cara caught up with her sister. In that time, Mairin’s boyfriend had hit 110 mph in the 30 mph zone. The brakes in the sports car locked up and the teen driver lost control. The car slid 200 feet before slamming into an oncoming sedan that held two women. Mairin’s door handle took a direct hit.
At 3:30 p.m., Cara watched her twin die as Mairin’s boyfriend climbed out of the sports car hatch, only mildly injured.
Paramedics strapped a hysterical Cara down to a bed in the ambulance.
“Half of me died the second she died,” Cara said.
Although Mairin was wearing a seat belt and the car had airbags, they did nothing to save her life. These things only gave Mairin a false sense of security.
Only getting out of the car could have saved her, Cara said.
And the choice to stay in the car with an unsafe driver proved lethal.
“On Aug. 29, she became a statistic, she became a number on paper,” she said. “That was the last thing she accomplished.”
Mairin’s boyfriend spent 15 days in jail and paid a $150 speeding ticket. Fortunately, the women in the sedan survived.
Two months after her sister’s death, Cara sobbed her way through her first presentation.
Over time, the talks became easier and Cara realized this is what she could do. However, “this is not what I thought I would do with my life,” she said. “I planned to be a marine biologist.”
Today, Cara delivers her message to more than 200 high schools across the world each year.
Although she says she has no right to tell anyone how to live their lives, she believes her message can save lives.
“I want to talk about the choices you can make,” she said.
“There are four choices that could have saved her life.”
The first option is not getting in the car. If you think the driver is unsafe, then find another way there, she said.
If you are already in the car, then find a way to get out. “Speak up for yourself” and your friends, she said.
If the driver will not stop, use one of the three Ps — pee, puke and period.
Tell the driver you have to use the bathroom and do the pee dance. Alternatively, tell them you have to puke and if you are a girl, tell them you started your period.
“Any lie you use to keep people safe is good.”
The fourth choice is to call your parents for a ride.
Even if you are embarrassed to ask, the last thing your parents want is to get a knock on the door from an officer telling them you are dead, she said.
The fifth and final choice is to put the cell phone down.
“Your Facebook update, e-mail or text message can wait,” she said. “This is not about taking fun out of the equation it is about having fun safely.”
Project Ignition was organized by 70 PHS students and funded through three grants.