EAST MANATEE -- One bad decision is all it takes.
Getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while impaired, texting while driving or not wearing a seat belt can end in tragedy.
It was all a reality Saturday for 1,000 onlookers at the Speak Up Against Impaired Driving event at Ranch Lake Plaza in East Manatee.
Local EMS and firefighters responded to the scene of an accident re-enactment on site, ripping apart two vehicles to retrieve actors inside the cars. Covered in syrup and dyes, the actors looked as if they had sustained injuries. Some were carted off on stretchers. One was pronounced dead.
Body bags and a hearse added to the visual effect.
"It was a show-stopper. Everybody in the plaza stopped," said Todd Ice, general manager at the local McGee Tire, which hosted the event. "It was dead silent."
The Florida Highway Patrol had a rollover simulator on scene. Even at 20 mph, two dummies without seat belts were ejected, one caught underneath the rolling vehicle.
"Those without their seat belts are 19 times more likely to die or be injured in a crash," FHP Lt. Greg Bueno told the crowd. "Seven people in Florida die every day from vehicle accidents."
Ice said personal experiences led to the event.
"Being a parent and watching things happening around me that have become socially acceptable
made me want to reach out to the community and change that," he said.
Three months ago, with an idea for the event, Ice enlisted the help of the Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition. From there, more organizations and public safety agencies provided resources for the event.
"Everything is designed to deliver a message of the dangers of underage drinking and substance abuse to parents and teenagers," he said.
The event included performances by Sozo Drug Free Teens and Creative Percussion Ensemble.
Law enforcement officials and individuals affected by impaired drivers discussed statistics and personal stories.
The Manatee Youth Commission performed skits.
"We wanted to provide scenarios when being in a car might not be safe and what to say to get yourself and the driver out of that situation," said Jeff Grolemund, a founding member of the Manatee Youth Commission and student intern for Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition.
Proceeds from the event will benefit VetCorps, a project partnered by the Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition and Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America to help returning soldiers struggling with alcohol and substance abuse.
Ice said he hopes this becomes an annual event. "If we just impact one life, it's been a success," Ice said.
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041.