The cell phone rang again and again in the silence.
No one answered.
After minutes of silence, it rang again.
Over and over and over it rang — but the hand that held the phone did not move.
Tragically, its owner could no longer raise the phone to his ear. He had died in a car crash caused when he texted a message.
Tanner Hintze, a Payson High School (PHS) senior, played the dead body covered by a black cloth for the Students Against Distracted Driving (SADD) presentation.
The day opened with the intense reenactment of a fatal accident caused by texting while driving.
“You should have taken the phone from him!” screamed a girl in the backseat of Tanner’s imaginary car on the stage.
“I know, I know — it’s ALL MY FAULT!” said the girl sitting in the passenger seat putting her hands on her head.
Across the stage, in another car, a student fought for his life.
The two groups had collided when Hintze, a driver distracted by texting, ran into the second car.
Numerous emergency response groups participated, including Native Air.
The helicopter company flies injured drivers to Phoenix hospitals since currently Payson’s medical center does not have the capability to handle trauma patients.
“The school sets up a day with a realistic accident — they use make-up and fake blood and then call us to make the scene look real,” said Abe McCann, the Northern Arizona Area Business Manager for Native Air.
Weather permitting, the Native Air helicopters take the injured student actor away from the scene of the accident to show the high school students what would happen in an actual accident.
“It’s a graphic and dramatic scene that includes a funeral and eulogy — one kid even gets booked and goes to jail,” said McCann.
Unfortunately for the PHS SADD group, the day of the assembly dawned with rain pouring down. The event had to move indoors to the PHS Auditorium, but the emergency personnel showed up to make the show dramatic despite the weather.
Two Native Air personnel, dressed in their flight gear, came to help with the assembly — nurse Jessie Brown and flight paramedic Erin Davidson.
The Native Air staff said that a Native Air helicopter sits at Payson Regional Medical Center 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
On average the company flies out between 30 and 40 medical emergencies each month from the Rim Country.
“In summer, it’s usually highway accidents, in the winter, more cases are patients out of the hospital,” said McCann.
The on-board staff said now that they own night vision goggles, they are able to fly over the 8,000-foot Mazatzal Mountains making it a faster flight, but inclement weather creates a scary ride.
Soon after the curtains opened to the SADD accident scene, emergency personnel swarmed the stage.
The Payson Police Department arrived first to direct traffic and control access to the scene, followed by the Payson Fire Department, then the Native Air personnel.
The voices of the emergency crews could barely be heard, but the panicked voices of the students in the accident and friends and family that came to scene punctuated the focus of the emergency crews.
“Taylor! Taylor! Why isn’t he moving!?” called out a girl.
The Payson policeman handling the scene gently guided her away.
“He’s my brother!” she cried out over her shoulder.
The Payson Fire Department brought their emergency equipment to do their best to stabilize the injured passenger. With the help of the two Native Air medical staff, they taped him to a body board to keep his neck and back immobile.
“Paramedics — that’s my girlfriend in the car!” yelled a young man.
“I want out of here,” she said when she heard her boyfriend.
The police kept him away from the accident.
Emergency personnel then transported the severely injured student to the helicopter, off stage, to go to a Valley trauma center.
“All Rim Country emergency personnel work really well together,” said McCann.
Dan Bramble, the Payson Fire Department Shift Supervisor agreed with McCann when he stepped onto the stage to explain to the students what they had just witnessed.
“What you just saw was a team of professionals doing their job,” he said to the assembled PHS students. “They don’t have to be loud and theatrical when they’re in the field — they just get it done.”
Bramble explained that in the case of a real accident, the Payson Police or Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers would arrive first on the scene to direct traffic and help emergency crews to reach the injured.
The fire department would then triage the worst injured, the other victims of the accident, what he called ‘walking wounded’ would wait until the most injured were removed.
Then Native Air personnel would fly those victims who were deemed in trauma to Valley hospitals.
Bramble then talked about the dangers of driving while texting.
“Eighty-three percent of Americans have a cell phone,” said Bramble, “Fifteen people per day die because of texting while driving.”
He told the students about AT&T’s ‘ItCanWait.com’ initiative.
On its It Can Wait website, AT&T quotes statistics from the Virginia Tech Transportation Research that states those who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be in a crash. The Pew Internet and American Life research found that of cell phone activities, talking, dialing, or reaching for the phone, texting while driving is the most dangerous.
A Texas Transportation Institute study found that when drivers texted or read a text while driving, their reaction time doubled. When the Texas researchers asked drivers to respond to a flashing light, they were 11 times more likely to miss the light if they were reading a text or texting.