Ansley Thrift lay halfway across the hood of an Oldsmobile March 29, her body ostensibly thrown through the windshield in a collision with a light pole in the school’s parking lot.
Beside her, in the driver’s seat, Josh Jones, and in the back seat, Breya Bentley and Alan McQuaig appeared to be severely injured.
Juniors and seniors had chattered as they piled into the bleachers moments earlier at Thomson High School Thursday afternoon during the school’s first Ghost Out.
The program demonstrated the dangers of driving while distracted.
The students quieted as one by one, 35 of their white-faced classmates, “ghosts,” filed into seats specifically set apart for them. They represented the lives that would be lost that day across the country in automobile accidents.
All students were silent as they watched the scene unfold in front of them.
Smoke poured from under the hood of the car. The police dispatch call played over the loudspeakers. EMTs used the Jaws of life to remove Jones and McQuaig. McQuaig was airlifted from the scene.
While students waited for emergency responders to arrive, JROTC teacher Larry Dunn narrated the scene, explaining in detail the distracting behavior that led to this moment and the injuries sustained by each victim.
Including, in detail, the death of Thrift.
Once the survivors were removed from the scene and taken to the hospital for treatment, emergency personnel removed Thrift’s body from the wreckage. They placed her in a body bag and loaded her into a hearse while her voice read the Ann Landers column Please God, I’m Only 17.
The role was very hard for Thrift, and she was initially afraid to do it.
The whole day her mind drifted back to her friend, Hali Fuller, who died in a car accident in 2010. But she wanted to help others see the dangers of driving while distracted.
“It would show others about what could happen. And me, too, because I’ve made bad decisions myself,” she said.
She hoped to have a chance to watch the scene, but in her position was unable to see much. She didn’t want to move.
“I figured the more realistic it was, the more people would get out of it,” she said.
It was powerful, said ninth-grade teacher Beth Cook, who watched with her students from a television in the classroom.
She said she didn’t know what to expect at first, but she and most of her students watched intently.
“I hope it makes and impression,” she said.
Freshman Joe’Necia McCord also watched from her classroom and said she doesn’t text and drive. For her, the most powerful part of the program was when science teacher Kathy Neal shared her story about the day her daughter, Mary, died in a car accident.
“I almost cried when she was talking about her daughter dying,” McCord said.
The event was an attempt to impress on teenagers the dangers of dangerous driving, which includes driving while distracted, texting, drinking or speeding.
“If we can somehow draw attention to the dangers of distracted driving, if we can help them change those attitudes, we can probably save a life,” said Principal Cecil Strong.