FARMINGTON — As firefighters pulled a supposedly lifeless teenage girl’s body from a mangled car and placed her in a body bag, dozens of somber-faced young people sat nearby on a lawn in silence, watching.

It was the image Kendra Smith hoped would stick with people who witnessed the mock drunken-driving demonstration Thursday afternoon on the campus of University of Maine at Farmington.

After the portrayal of a fatal drunken-driving crash was over, Smith, 38, spoke to the crowd about having lost her 17-year-old son to reckless driving. On May 4, 2005, the Hollis woman’s son, Jeff Letellier, was killed while he was a passenger in a speeding car that ran a stop sign and was struck by another car.

Fighting back tears Thursday, Smith pleaded with the large crowd of mostly college-age students to remember what they felt when seeing firsthand the consequences of reckless driving.

“I’m begging you to take this message home with you,” Smith said.

She also reinforced that the choices they have, challenging them to never drive recklessly, which includes being impaired by drugs or alcohol, speeding or becoming distracted.

Smith then warned, unlike the dramatization, in which actors emerge unscathed moments later, that one poor choice can lead to a lifetime of anguish for families whose loved ones are killed.

Among the crowd was Kory Scarponi, a 19-year-old UMF student from Bath. He said the demonstration Thursday is something he will never forget, calling it the best way to teach people about the thousands of lives claimed by people who don’t think before getting behind the wheel.

“It’s a stupid idea to do it, drink and drive, and there’s always somebody sober who can help you,” he said.

The scenario unfolded about 4 p.m. Thursday as if a drunk driver had just hit a pedestrian and crashed head-on into another car on South Street in Farmington. Paramedics applied graphic makeup to recreate the actors’ injuries. Two cars with smashed front ends and broken windshields stood in the middle of the road.

A college student started things off by making a panicked emergency 911 call to report the crash. She told dispatchers another college student was covered in blood and lying in the street. Nearby, five other people sat motionless in the two cars, she said, her trembling voice amplified by speakers.

Her call actually was taken by Franklin County dispatchers, who previously had alerted area emergency-response agencies about the drill. As dispatchers coordinated the response to the crash, the crowd listened to emergency responders communicating, via the speakers.

The drunken driver opened her door and stumbled outside, with a Jack Daniel’s liquor bottle and a Colt 45 beer bottle clattering as they hit the street. She shouted, “What happened?” before staggering over to the car she had hit to pound on the windows.

Police cruisers, two ambulances, a firetruck and other emergency-response vehicles arrived within minutes at the scene with sirens blaring. When the sirens stopped, onlookers went silent as they watched emergency responders rushing to the various injured college students.

Firefighters tore the car apart with power tools, peeling back the shattered windshield and cutting off the car’s doors and roof. The victims sat motionless under a blanket until the firefighters finished.

They removed the three passengers from the car and put them on stretchers before moving on to the driver, who had remained slumped over the wheel. She was laid in a body bag. Funeral home workers wheeled the “corpse” on a stretcher and put it into a nearby sport utility vehicle.

Meanwhile, Farmington Police Deputy Chief Shane Cote ran the drunken driver through a series of impairment tests. After she wobbled and nearly fell while trying to walk a straight line, Cote slapped handcuffs on her and another officer put her in the back of a cruiser.

Several state police troopers and Franklin County sheriff’s deputies also went through an accident reconstruction process. They measured skid marks in the road and recorded other forensic evidence, ranging from liquor bottles in the car to the pedestrian’s flip-flop lying in the crosswalk where she had been struck.

The event was organized by the college, area emergency-response agencies and other anti-drunken-driving groups. Among those participating was the Justice4Jeff Foundation, a reckless-driving awareness group started by Kendra Smith in her son’s memory.

The group raises money to help parents pay for funeral costs of children who died in crashes and does community outreach to educate people about reckless driving, she said.

Tiffany Duplessis, 22, of Sanford, played the drunken driver. The UMF student said she has a family member who is an alcoholic and that she always has been vigilant to prevent drunken driving.

For example, she recalled calling the police one night after learning a friend was driving drunk. Police quickly stopped her friend’s car and arrested him on an operating under the influence charge, she said.

“I wanted to do (the mock drunken driving) to spread awareness and show how serious the repercussions are,” she said.

David F. Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.