County, Bernalillo officials hold simulation highlighting DWI crash scene, dangers

03/17/2022 – Story by Matt Hollinshead with the Rio Rancho Observer

Sandoval County officials pulled up to the site of a brutal crash involving two wrecked vehicles, leaving the occupants injured and pleading for help. And with a report of possible injuries, a helicopter landed at the scene, ready to airlift the patients to a nearby hospital.

One of the drivers was suspected of getting behind the wheel while drunk. One of the other occupants died at the scene. Two others had to be transported by ambulance and helicopter.

As dramatic as it was, the entire eerie scene was a simulation — put together by the sheriff’s office, Sandoval County Fire and Rescue, the Bernalillo Fire Department and the Bernalillo Police Department Wednesday at Bernalillo High School. It was meant to provide as a complete a picture as possible about the dangers and collateral damage brought on by DWI.

“It was needed to show the students and the staff members here a front-row view what it’s like because we only see it through the news. We’re not up close in-person,” said Iziah Maes, Bernalillo High’s student body president. “I hope this is a start to change. We need to see change in DWIs. People’s lives are put at risk. Our officers’ lives are put at risk.”

Sheriff’s deputies, county firefighters and Bernalillo police officers presented the components of how those incidents are handled, with four high school students taking on various roles.

Eloy Vigil and Makayla Suina portrayed the victims being transported by ambulance and helicopter, respectively. Davina Rostro played the role of the deceased victim. Maes portrayed a drunk driver.

The students wore prosthetic makeup simulating gash wounds, and everyone taking part in the simulation wore microphones so students watching could hear, see and feel the real-world impact of DWI crashes.

“And with prom coming up, now’s a good opportunity to do this,” county Fire Chief Eric Masterson said. “Unfortunately, we definitely see an increase in volume of cars throughout all of Sandoval County in the summer months. People come here to recreate like crazy, and with that recreation comes the increased chances of car accidents, of which some are related directly to DWI.”

Coy Maienza, the county’s prevention and intervention program director, said it’s important students understand the repercussions of DWI.

“It’s a huge impact. From somebody being paralyzed, somebody dying, somebody losing their future because now they’re convicted of DUI. That changes everything,” Maienza said. “Even just one (less DWI crash) is going to be a huge thing for us.”

During the simulation, multiple BPD units and county fire and emergency medical service units rolled up to the scene, behind the football stadium, to find two wrecked vehicles involved. All four occupants were extracted, but had different outcomes.

The drunken driver, found in a pickup truck, was helped out of the vehicle, checked and then put through sobriety tests — the walk-and-turn test, the horizontal and vertical nystagmus tests, the whole nine yards. While being handcuffed, he began to resist and was taken to the ground.

Maes said he included that aspect in his script playing the drunken driver to help make it more real, especially highlighting how law enforcement reacts in that moment.

“If you’re drinking, you decide to drive and you hit another vehicle, you are wasting your life and you just killed an innocent civilian. That civilian’s probably trying to go home or go to the store. It’s not worth it,” Maes said. “It’s good that we did this (event). DWI needs to end, because it’s not worth it.”

Students must think about the consequences of drinking at parties that follow prom, Maes said.

“You’ve got to think smart,” he said.

Vigil said he was interested in the event because he wanted to learn how fire and police departments handle tough situations like DWI crashes.

“I think we take for granted the fire department, our police department on what they go through doing this type of stuff. It takes a toll on them, on their families,” Vigil said.

Curious what it’d be like to be airlifted from a crash scene, Suina said she wanted to help bring awareness because DWIs sometimes happen in the county’s Pueblo communities and because prom’s coming soon.

“It’s getting closer to the summer, so people are going to be hanging out,” she said.

If Wednesday’s event can help reduce DWI crash rates by even one or two percentage points, it’s worth it, Masterson said.

“We hope to do more of this,” he said. “If I can prevent one (DWI crash) this year by doing something like this, (prevent) one student from drinking during prom or one student from drinking in the summertime, then I think we’ve done our job.”