Those Buena Vista University students who may not have checked their e-mail Wednesday were in for a shock Thursday morning when a SUV apparently driven by an intoxicated college student jumped the curb and struck three other college students.
Krystal Kehrli, a drama student from Manchester, piled out of the SUV, knocking several beer cans on the pavement as officer Pete Erickson approached. Kehrli seemed oblivious to the scene before her.
Leah Marshall, a BVU student from Alta, had died at the scene. Lindsay Warren, (Kehrli was to later discover was actually her roommate) was taken to the "emergency ER" in the Siebens Forum where she died later. Only Cliff Coggins, from Kehrli's hometown of Manchester, lived. With his broken leg, though, he was likely crippled for life.
What unfolded through the rest of Thursday, though fictitious, was an altogether-too-familiar scene that could happen, and often has, in college towns throughout the country. The BVU student organization Reshaping Our Campus Community (ROCC) would like to keep such scenes from being repeated by making BVU students aware of the real-life dangers of drinking and driving.
They hoped that the staged event will highlight the legal consequences and the even greater human toll of people who are maimed and die each year in alcohol-related accidents.
The response from Storm Lake police and fire personnel was rapid and impressive. Nothing was spared to convey a sense of realism, with several police cars, fire units, an ambulance from Buena Vista Regional Medical Center, and eventually a hearse that came to pick up Marshall's body. It was a very sobering experience, you could probably say.
After the accident, Warren was taken to the emergency ER where doctors tried her best, but she died.
Students in Peter Steinfeld's Death and Dying class later discussed what had happened that morning.
"It kind of made me angry at first,"said one student. "Then it just kind of made me sad, I guess."
Other comments were all too familiar.
"It was just so realistic" said one student and "I've been in a very similar situation to what's happened here" said another. "Even though you know in your head it's not real, you still think it could be," said a third student.
A double funeral was held 11 .m. in Schaller Memorial Chapel for Marshall and Warren. Nothing was spared at the funeral which was as realistic as any funeral anywhere. Photos of Marshall and Warren in the lobby made mourners halt in their tracks before entering the chapel.
BVU Chaplain Ken Meissner had prepared two eulogies.
"Bad things happen and they happen to good people," Meissner said. "God doesn't want or will death."
Marshall, just 19, was a school mentor and aid and a member of her church's praise band.
Warren, 21, was a dean's fellow. Her boyfriend, Luke Harwath of Holstein, talked about her.
"Lindsay was my girlfriend," Harwath said. "I don't know what to say to keep her alive. There's nothing. I do know that she was a loving person. She loved everybody. That's all I have to say."
Kehrli's trial was held 6 p.m. Buena Vista County Assistant County Attorney Lori Kolpin tried the case. Kehrli was defended by Kolpin's husband, attorney Ryan Kolpin. Rick Kimble, Buena Vista County magistrate, presided. All but one person in the audience found Kehrli guilty.
Mari Seel of Cherokee and Kali Smrcina of Norwalk, ROCC co-presidents, said they wanted to stage the accident and ensuing ER scene, funeral, and trial, to call attention to the problems with drinking and driving. Seel said a similar mock event was held 10 years ago on campus, but that it was time to remind students again.
Seel said last year ROCC conducted a program telling people in Storm Lake of the dangers of alcohol and tobacco. Last spring, ROCC conducted an alcohol-prevention program at Storm Lake St. Mary's.
"We're a healthy-living group that tries to focus on making safe choices," Seel said, noting that ROCC has had a lot of BVU faculty support.
From before the accident, 50 BVU students circulated through the other students, saying nothing, their vows of silence a symbol for how many people die each day from drunk drivers. A costumed Grim Reaper had his day, too, appearing from time to time in the background of the dramatic events, even perhaps looking a bit sad himself at times.
Even for the talented actor, the tragedy seemed all too real.
"It was really easy to get caught up in," Kehrli said from her "jail cell" after booking and awaiting her trial, visibly shaken by the experience in which was a willing actor.