Rebecca Yarnell, center, is restrained by law enforcement after seeing the body of her child lying on a gurney. Dwight Owens (bottom left with back to camera) is a former Laurel High teacher who was paralyzed from the waist down after getting hit by a drunk driver in 2005. (Photo by Mark Thornton)

‘It’s not acting’

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Mother of 5 lost loved one to drunk driver

The annual Mock Crash before prom season is staged. But most of the participants aren’t acting.

For Rebecca Yarnell, who portrays the mother of the dead boy who runs onto the crash scene and has to be restrained by deputies, it isn’t an act. Her young cousin was killed by a drunk driver on the coast two weeks before her wedding.

“It takes me back to that time,” she said after her “performance” Tuesday morning in front of students at West Jones High School. “I just feel it so much still and it’s such an important message. The choices people make affect more than themselves.”

For all of the law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical personnel on the track that morning, it wasn’t an act. It was a scene that’s played out in front of their eyes and stayed in their minds.

“That’s real,” Capt. Tonya Madison of the Jones County Sheriff’s Department told students after the demonstration. “Some of you think it’s funny. I saw you … You think it can’t happen to you. But it only takes a split-second for a tragedy to happen. You’ve never had to identify someone on a cold slab. It’s not cute.”

And for Dwight Owens, it wasn’t an act. The former Laurel High School teacher was left paralyzed from the waist down after a drunk driver crashed into him on Highway 84 West in Covington County in 2005.

Owens, who is now a motivational speaker and author of “Still Standing,” spoke to students about his story of triumph over tragedy before going with them to watch the demonstration on the track.

“Shout out to West Jones High School for allowing me to be a part of their eye-opening program to discourage destructive behavior,” he wrote on Facebook. “The crash re-enactment where students were killed was spot on! Bravo to the emergency personnel. I wish more schools would do this.”

In the scene, an SUV driven by a drunk teen crashed into a car that was occupied by four West Jones students. All were injured and had bloody faces and bodies. The driver, Gage Hutto, wasn’t wearing his seatbelt and went through the windshield.

The SUV driver, portrayed by former Jones County and current Jasper County Deputy R.H. Stockman, stumbled over to the other car to check on the victims and asked passers-by not to call the cops, all while trying to blame the other driver for causing the accident and kicking his beer cans under their car. 

The driver of the mock DUI crash is taken down by Jones County Sheriff’s Department K-9 Zedd and Deputy Doug Shepherd. The driver was played by Deputy R.H. Stockman (Photo by Mark Thornton)

When deputies and Mississippi Highway Patrol Trooper Travis Luck arrived, Stockman became belligerent and took off running across the football field. That’s when Deputy Doug Shepherd sent his Belgian malinois Zedd to take down the “suspect,” and he was taken into custody.

At the same time, firefighters and rescuers were working to extricate the victims in the car — Kassie Sellers, Austin Beech and Hannah Summerlin — with the Jaws of Life then assessed and treated them. Sellers was airlifted in a helicopter that landed on the football field.

Rescuers gathered in a circle and prayed as Hutto was placed in a body bag, then on a gurney by officials from Memory Chapel Funeral Home, his “mother” Yarnell screaming and crying as they wheeled him to a hearse.

It was the first year for the demonstration at West Jones and many of the same emergency officials will do it all again Friday for the fifth year at Northeast Jones. The idea was developed by Lance Chancellor of the Powers Volunteer Fire Department. Calhoun VFD’s Scott Rushing and Lee Garick organized the event at West Jones, and volunteers from Calhoun, Pleasant Ridge, Hebron, Soso, Shady Grove and Sharon participated, along with EMServ medics and the Jones County Emergency Management Agency.

WJ Principal Cooper Pope thanked all of the participants for the parts they played in putting together the demonstration.

“A lot went into this,” he told students before commending them for “being attentive.”

Yarnell, who is the mother of five home-schooled children, tries hard to make sure the students pay attention, in hopes she can help spare another family the pain that hers has been through.“If we can save just one life …”