EVENSVILLE, Tenn. -- Rhea County High School student Alec Smith said he's had several friends who have "gotten lucky too many times" after driving irresponsibly.
A crowd of 650 juniors and seniors assembled outside the school Monday morning and watched Smith and Katie Etherton's re-enact a fatal crash. Smith portrayed Etherton's prom date, who survived, while Etherton's character died.
Members of the Rhea County Sheriff's Office, the county health council's anti-drug coalition and other sponsors joined the assembly to promote awareness of the dangers of driving while texting or drinking.
The program, called "Every 15 Minutes," refers to how often statistics show a person in the United States is killed in a car crash related to drinking or texting, officials said.
The program, the first in Rhea County, took place only days before this weekend's high school prom.
After students settled into their morning classes, from 8:15 a.m. until 10:50 a.m. the "Grim Reaper" strolled through classrooms and chose "victims" as unsuspecting classmates watched.
For Lauren Keck, witnessing the "death" of fellow student and friend Evan Roddy Smith was difficult.
"He's been a really close friend," Keck said, considering the possibility of losing her friends in such a way.
The students chosen for the mock funeral service had black shrouds covering their heads as they entered the school gymnasium for the assembly.
Parent Kim Ledford recounted the details surrounding her son Dustin's death in a crash off APD 40 in Cleveland, Tenn., and the devastation of her first Mother's Day without him.
The school's Junior ROTC members escorted a coffin with "victim" Preston Opperman to the front of the gymnasium as a video played of Opperman's pleas and regrets about his irresponsible decisions.
Kimberly McMillian is based in Rhea County. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.