Led by the grim reaper, 11 Warren East High School students walked into a darkened gymnasium Friday afternoon, each carrying a candle as the junior and senior class looked on.
A speaker told the individual life stories of the 11 students just before each blew out his or her candle and fell into the arms of firefighters. The students were covered with a white sheet adorned with a single long-stem red rose signifying their lives cut short by drunken driving accidents.
One student had plans to play baseball at a Tennessee college. Another was a cheerleader who would never again lead a crowd rooting for the Raiders.
In a corner of the gymnasium, a silver casket sat as a stark reminder of the potential deadly consequences of impaired driving.
The students were part of Ghost Out, a campaign organized by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with the school’s Youth Services coordinator and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The program is aimed at educating juniors and seniors headed into prom and graduation season about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Warren County Deputy Coroner Dwayne Lawrence explained the pain he sees in families when he has to knock on a door to tell loved ones about a family member dying in a wreck.
For many people who drink and drive or ride with someone who has been drinking, “I am your designated driver” and “final ride,” Lawrence told a rapt audience of teens.
“Please make the right choices,” he said. “Don’t make me knock on someone’s door.”
Ashley Eakles, a 17-year-old senior, thought the delivery of the message was effective.
“I loved it,” she said. “It was really touching but really sad when I saw my friends up there.
“I think people might be safe after prom after this, and they will make good decisions,” Eakles said.
Brock Arnold, an 18-year-old senior who played the role of one of the students who died, felt the message in a different way.
“Being in it, walking down knowing that I’m dead, it was sad, really sad,” he said.
Senior Hillary Herrington, 18, another “casualty,” hopes her friends got the message.
“I hope that it made an impact on people, the ones who haven’t experienced the pain and suffering of losing someone by seeing their friends and some teammates lying in front of them without it actually being true,” she said.