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Face-to-face with tragedy

Woodbury Public Safety EMT John Dillon applies makeup to WHS senior Abby Meuers in an effort to depict her as a dead person. More than 30 WHS students were chosen to portray the dead as part of a Students Against Destructive Decisions event Thursday, April 10. (Staff photo by Mike Longaecker)1 / 2
Woodbury High School senior Abby Meuers is chosen by classmate Nicole Stanton, who portrayed the grim reaper during a daylong event at the school meant to raise awareness about alcohol-related fatalities. (Staff photo by Mike Longaecker)2 / 2

If Woodbury High School felt a little gloomy last Thursday, it was most certainly by design.

Members of the Students Against Destructive Decisions group teamed up with Woodbury police to present the annual “Grim Reaper Day” at the school.

The daylong event began with a student cloaked in all black visiting different classrooms to deliver the dark news, punctuated with students’ own obituaries chronicling how they had been killed in an alcohol-related or a distracted driving crash. The student was then taken away by the reaper, SADD members and Woodbury police.

One by one, the reaper visited classrooms until more than 30 students were taken from the rooms in an attempt to convey the grave impact of distracted driving and alcohol-related fatalities.

According to Minnesota Department of Public Safety data, distracted driving accounted for 25 percent of all crashes between 2009 and 2013. Department data accounts for about 60 deaths and more than 8,000 injuries each year.

“The reality is distractions take our attention away from the important task of driving,” said DPS Office of Traffic Safety Director Donna Berger. “It is up to every driver to eliminate distractions and share the road safely and responsibly.”

Woodbury police officer Scott Melander said the fact that the event preceded WHS’ prom wasn’t a coincidence.

WHS students celebrated prom on Saturday, April 12, while East Ridge High School holds its prom on Saturday, April 26.

Organizers at the WHS event hoped to leave a fresh message on students’ minds as the spring event neared.

“We’re shooting for people to keep it in the back of their minds heading into prom,” said SADD co-president Sarah Wahlin.

After being summoned by the reaper, students were taken to a room where Woodbury Public Safety EMT John Dillon applied makeup to their faces. The makeup, which depicted bruises and traumatic injuries, was intended to make the students appear dead. Those students returned to classes, where they were required to remain silent for the rest of the school day.

The event concluded with the “dead” students standing solemnly as their classmates left the building.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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