High school students will be celebrating their proms in the next couple of weeks and local authorities want to implore the need for safety as students celebrate their grand ball of the teen years.

Last week those officials teamed together to bring home a stark but vital message - impaired driving can cost lives.

With North Laurel High School celebrating its annual prom festivities on Saturday, a mock crash was staged last week to emphasize how an accident can change - and end - the potential of young lives.

The exercise began with a staged crash - a wrecked vehicle in which one passenger was ejected and died at the scene, one was seriously injured and faced a life of being paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, and the driver who was convicted of manslaughter and assault and faced 25 years in prison for his actions.

It was a horrific sight for high school students as they saw a sheet covered body lying on the pavement in the back parking lot of the school, emergency personnel surrounding another student lying on a stretcher and a medical helicopter landing at the scene while the driver of the vehicle was placed under arrest.

The driver, portrayed by senior student Blaine Smith, then faced a trial in which Laurel/Knox District Judge Skip Hammons imposed the recommended sentence of 15 years for the manslaughter charge and 10 years for the assault against the injured victim. Hammons said the two sentences would run consecutively - or one after the other - for a total of 25 years.

The two attorneys - former Public Advocacy Director Roger Gibbs and Laurel County Attorney J.L. Albright - both made statements regarding the situation after the mock trial had ended.

Gibbs acted as Smith's attorney in the mock trial and implored students to heed the message from the staged event.

"Please, please, do not drink and drive," he said. "I just heard on the news of a 4-year-old who was shut off life support and its organs donated after it was hit and killed by a drunk UK student. If you have any questions about the law and how it works, please come talk to me. But please don't put me in the position to defend you in a case like this."

Albright also made his plea to the students. His daughter, Emily Albright, played the passenger who was ejected from the vehicle during the crash - the victim who died due to an impaired driving incident.

"I knew this was a mock crash but I have to say when I walked over that hill and saw my daughter lying on the pavement, I couldn't imagine how I would react if it was real," Albright said. "Don't ever risk the importance of your lives or put your future to risk."

Judge Skip Hammons also spoke directly to students, pointing out how those three lives might have been forever changed had they simply called someone to come drive them home.

"As the parent of a 22-year-old, he's figured out that we (parents) are not as evil as he once thought," Hammons said. "If you are ever in a situation like this, call your parents, a friend - someone. Your parents may not be happy with you, but I'm sure they would certainly want to come and get you more than seeing you dead or injured or going to jail."

He also warned students against texting and driving, which is also considered impaired driving. Numerous accidents and deaths have occurred from motorists who are texting or talking on cell phones, resulting in new laws being passed to address that as situations of impaired driving.

Those involved in the mock crash included Kentucky State Police, London Laurel Rescue Squad, Ambulance Inc. of Laurel County, Laurel County ASAP, PHI medical helicopter, Laurel County Coroner Office, Saint Joseph London, Laurel County School System, and Laurel County Attorney's Office.

The North Laurel High School Prom will be held on Saturday, April 27 at the London Community Center at 8 p.m. South Laurel High School Prom is set for Saturday, May 11 at the high school, also beginning at 8 p.m.

njohnson@sentinel-echo.com

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