Northwest NEWS

June 7, 1999

Front Page

DUI tragedy enacted at Woodinville High School

staged DUI

Using the horror of a realistic enactment of a fatal accident caused by a drunk teenage driver, police, firefighters, a lawyer, and the mother of a dead teen told of their past experiences with the emotional realities of drinking and driving. Members of the WHS Drama Department, on their way to Scotland to perform at the Fringe Festival, played the parts of the drunk driver, the injured, and the dead.
Staff photo by Marshall Haley.

by Marshall Haley, staff reporter

   Woodinville High School thespians performed a convincing tragedy last Wednesday in the high school parking lot. Their supporting cast added somber reality, as the Woodinville Police and Fire & Life Safety departments showed students how they handle a deadly automobile collision.

   While Public Fire Educator Dave Leggett narrated for a large student audience, several police cars, an aid car, and one fire engine roared onto the scene. Paramedics and police officers jumped out and spent an average of one minute checking victims for vitals, to determine if any were beyond help, and which ones required most urgent care, Leggett explained.

   Typically, the drunk driver who crashed into the car carrying four other students was not seriously hurt. His passengers sustained minor injuries. Two victims in the struck car "died" at the scene. That car's driver suffered head injuries and an "amputated" arm, but survived.

   Some paramedics contorted themselves into the back seat of the compact car, carefully securing victims to portable, hard-plastic stretchers to minimize potential skeletal or spinal cord trauma. Then other paramedics helped lift the victims out of the car.

   To add to the audience's sense of reality, the victims played themselves, members of the Woodinville High drama department due to "Soar to Scotland" this summer.

   "Imagine how a tragedy like this could devastate the plans for that trip," said Leggett. "Think of what it would do to your family and friends. It's surprising how often parents of young victims are among the first to hear about these accidents and arrive on the scene. They are obviously beside themselves and want to comfort their child. Sometimes it takes 3-5 officers to hold parents of victims back. Some of the most uncomfortable sounds I've heard in my life have come from those parents."

   The drunk driver was read his rights. An officer explained to him that he didn't have to agree to tests for alcohol and drug levels, but since the accident involved deaths, police were obligated and authorized to conduct the tests anyway. The driver was handcuffed and put in a patrol car for transportation to the county jail. He was the only one in his car who had been drinking.

   Each victim typically needs four firefighters to aid him in such a serious accident, said Leggett. Since the accident involved eight injured parties, the paramedic team was understaffed, he pointed out.

   "Usually, a non-denominational pastor who volunteers for these cases is called," Leggett said. "Often these things happen late at night. They have to get up and go to parents' homes and tell them their child has been killed."

   The audience and scene participants convened to the auditorium, where Woodinville Police Chief Ken Wardstrom played an anonymous poem, narrating the dying thoughts of a teenage girl "speaking" to her mother, who didn't arrive before she died.

   Attorney Wes Bates, Woodinville resident who formerly worked for the Spokane prosecutor's office, explained the laws governing underage drinkers, and how violations can negatively impact not only their lives, but the lives of their parents and other family members.

   The teenage drunk driver would probably get a sentence of at least 14 years in prison, Bates said. Bates pointed out how difficult holding a job could be for drunk drivers who automatically lose their license for one year for a first offense and two years or longer for subsequent offenses.

   Parents are liable for any lawsuits against the actions of their minor children, said Bates. He has seen people lose their homes and most everything of value as the result of scenes such as the students witnessed. Such suits have run as much as a million and a half dollars, with attorney fees of $150,000 or more, he said. Parents can be prosecuted for "allowing" their children to hold drinking parties in the family home, whether or not they know about it.

   Chief Wardstrom told of an incident when he was a rookie King County deputy, 30 years ago. He came on an accident scene where a car had gone into a ravine. A teenage girl was pinned under the frame of the car.

   "I couldn't move her. All I could do was hold her and tell her everything was going to be all right," said Wardstrom, still emotionally shaken by the memory. "Of course it wasn't true. She died before medics arrived. Her parents arrived and were standing up on the road. I had to tell them their daughter was dead, then I gave them a ride home, doing the best I could to comfort them. We didn't have chaplains on call back then.

   "How do you comfort people who have just lost their child? If she had lived, that girl would be about the same age as many of your mothers. Since then, I've lost count of the number of kids I've seen killed in car wrecks. I told my own daughter to call me if ever she couldn't drive home. If she drank and called, I'd be unhappy, but I'd pick her up. I guarantee you that your parents would rather pick you up and have you home alive with them."

   With all the talking and joking in the audience, it was hard to tell if students were taking the topic seriously, or if they were just looking for some comic relief. Two student questions seemed to focus on how to avoid prosecution. But then, one girl asked why there was a blood-alcohol limit for minors, if it was illegal for them to drink any alcohol?

   All the joking stopped when Nancy Mazzoncini started talking. She started by saying how lucky the high school audience was to have so many people care enough about them, to help them learn these hard lessons without living it.

   "Ten years ago, I got to join a very exclusive club, but the dues were very high," said Mazzoncini. "The members were all wonderful people, but the initiation fee was losing someone you love. Wes mentioned the threats you face from the law. What he can't tell you is what happens here (pointing to her heart). I hate giving these talks. It makes me nervous to bare my soul. I'm embarrassed to be a bad example. These talks are not healing or therapeutic for me.

   "I come here for two main reasons: one, for you, so you won't have to experience what we did; and two, for our son Mark. It's the greatest gift I can give him. Last year, we put a sign on the road where he died: 'Please don't drink and drive, in memory of Mark Mazzoncini.' If just one of you listens and doesn't leave here and drive after drinking ... I guarantee you, your parents would rather come pick you up, anytime ... [Mazzoncini paused to compose herself.]

   "Let me tell you about the worst day of my life. I never thought we'd be awakened at 4 a.m. by a chaplain telling us our son was dead. But that was not the worst day. Planning the death of a child was not the worst day. 'What kind of flowers do you want, what do you think Mark would like?' Mark would like to be alive! That's not the natural order of life; parents aren't supposed to outlive their children.

   "The worst day was the day I stood and stared at a big hole in the ground, and watched them slowly lower my son's casket into it. Wes can't talk about the holes in the hearts of Mark's five brothers and sisters. Mark was an above average student, never in trouble. He was a good kid who chose to break the rules and didn't get a second chance."

   Mazzoncini described heart-wrenching details of her son's injuries. His body was so crushed that only his bone marrow was of value to donor recipients. She talked of what it was like for her and her husband to be the first parents in the state to have criminal charges filed against them for hosting a party that allowed teenagers to drink. They had thought that was safer than having kids out on their own, drinking without supervision.

   It was hard to see if there was a dry eye in the auditorium.