Mock trial depicts crash aftermath

Kerell Edwards wore handcuffs for his role as a defendant in a mock trial at St. Amant High School designed to make students think before they drink, text or take drugs and drive.

In the March 7 scenario, Edwards, a St. Amant High School student, was “charged” with vehicular homicide, first-degree vehicular negligent injuring, driving while intoxicated and reckless operation in connection with a mock crash that happened in May.

Edwards joined members of the school’s drama club and law class, lawyers with the 23rd Juridical District Attorney’s Office, Parish Court Judge Marilyn Lambert, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and State Police for a Sudden Impact program follow up to the mock crash that simulated the death of one student and the serious injury of another.

“Sudden Impact provides testimony to the ramifications of driving while impaired from a medical, law enforcement and victim perspective,” Trooper 1st Class Jared L. Sandifer said.

Student Alixx Zeller played the role of a student who had been paralyzed from the waist down in the May simulated crash. Zeller sat a wheelchair as she “testified” about the crash and her recovery.

The junior class watched as witnesses testified and the two attorneys debated the case in the school gym.

Assistant District Attorney Jason Verdigets said he tried to make the experience as real as possible for the students.

“If we can at least make theme think twice before they pick up that drink or pill, it will make a difference and it’ll be worth it to me,” Verdigets said.

Verdigets and Kenneth Dupaty, another ADA who was portraying Edwards’ defense counsel, said it’s not rare to prosecute a similar case in court these days.

Katie Sheets, a nurse with OLOL’s trauma unit, said the Sudden Impact program met with 4,500 students from the Troop A area in 2012.

Sheets said research collected from the students going through the program indicate that “we’re making a difference.”

As sophomores, the students were led through a five-hour tour of the hospital’s trauma unit and taught about the consequences of “their bad decisions.”

The mock crash shows the students what can happen after “they make those bad decisions ... and the mock trial shows them the legal consequences,” she said.

St. Amant Principal Mia Edwards said the mock trial’s purpose “is to take you (students) to that other side ... and show you the legal ramifications when you drink and drive or text and drive.”

In the end, the mock jury delivered guilty verdicts on all counts and Lambert “sentenced” Edwards to 10 years in jail.

Lambert said she handed down the same type of sentence she would have “in a real life case.”

After the mock trial, Zeller stood from the wheelchair and talked about the experience.

“It opened my eyes to the consequences of what can happen when your classmates make bad decisions,” Zeller said. “It makes a difference, I think.”