‘Sudden Impact’ program reaching students

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Tessia LeBouef, standing, talks about her experiences dealing with the death of her daughter, Rochelle Hollier, from a drunk driving accident during a program for high school students Tuesday at Women's and Children's Hospital in Lafayette. Photos of the car Hollier was travelling in as well as images of her in the hospital, seen at right, were part of LeBouef's presentation.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Tessia LeBouef, standing, talks about her experiences dealing with the death of her daughter, Rochelle Hollier, from a drunk driving accident during a program for high school students Tuesday at Women's and Children's Hospital in Lafayette. Photos of the car Hollier was travelling in as well as images of her in the hospital, seen at right, were part of LeBouef's presentation.

Without a pause or a tear, Tessia LeBouef recounted the September 2010 day her 17-year-old daughter was in the car crash that killed her.

The 15 high school sophomores from Ascension Episcopal High School listened somberly Tuesday as LeBouef told the story of her daughter’s death. They looked down or at the slides showing a mangled and brain-dead Rochelle Hollier in a hospital bed and on a ventilator.

“She was broken, bleeding, unable to speak, unable to move,” LeBouef told the teens and teary-eyed adults.

Rochelle’s legs, arms, pelvis, neck and back were broken, and her spleen was ruptured, LeBouef said. The emergency room doctor at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center was honest with her: Rochelle was going to die.

The driver, Rochelle’s boyfriend, was killed instantly in the one-vehicle crash south of Maurice. He was drug-impaired, and neither wore a seat belt, LeBouef said.

“How are we ever going to live through this?” LeBouef asked her husband then.

The Ascension students Tuesday listened to LeBouef and others as part of a program called “Sudden Impact,” created by State Police and the LSU Level 1 Trauma Center in New Orleans.

The students, most of them 16 and just starting to drive, gathered in a room at Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Lafayette for the program. The hospital and State Police have teamed up to implement the program, which is starting with the Ascension Episcopal High students, hospital spokesman Trevis Badeaux said.

On Friday, a second batch of 20 Ascension students will go through their first session, said Stephen Hammons, a trooper with State Police who helped coordinate the Sudden Impact session with the hospital.

Tuesday’s session was the first of three that will be held over two years, Hammons said.

Hammons said that next year, when the same teens are high school juniors, State Police and other first responders will stage a mock vehicle crash at Ascension’s Youngsville campus, which simulates real-world tragedies. The mock crash will include one of the students as the impaired driver and parents being informed that their child has been killed.

In their senior year, Hammons said, the students will participate in a mock trial where the impaired driver from the year before will be judged by his peers.

The program is designed to drive home how fast things can turn tragic.

“I was not aware of how frequent accidents happen, and the fatalities were shocking to me,” said Victoria DorĂ©, a 16-year-old Ascension student.

She said she also was not aware of “how life-saving a seat belt can be.”

Jessica Greco, 16, said she’ll start driving next month and vowed not to drive while distracted by a smartphone. Greco said she recently had to remind the driver of a car she was riding in not to text.

“I saw that and I told him to put (the phone) down,” she said.

Hammons had statistics for the teens, and one of which hit home hard: Car crashes are the No. 1 killer of Louisiana teens.

In the past five years more than 60 people under the age of 21 were killed on Acadiana roadways, said Hammons, who was one of the investigating troopers at the crash that killed Rochelle Hollier in 2010.

Rochelle’s mother, Tessia LeBouef, said Tuesday she remembers vividly details of that September day. She was shopping at Kohl’s department store on Ambassador Caffery Parkway when she got a call, LeBouef said.

Once in her car, she couldn’t buckle up.

“I’m screaming at my seat belt in the Kohl’s parking lot,” she said.

Then she tried to get to the hospital quickly, but she was on Ambassador Caffery on a Friday afternoon and moving nowhere fast.

Rochelle lay in an emergency room bed with many wounds, including an 8-inch gash on the top of her head.

“She was practically scalped,” LeBouef said.

While in intensive care, someone painted Rochelle’s toenails.

“We wanted her to look her best when she met Jesus,” LeBouef said.

Rochelle’s organs were donated, she said.