Chesterfield students get emotional writing their own obituaries

Posted at 4:35 PM, May 14, 2019

RICHMOND, Va. -- Forced to face a tragic reality far too early, best friends Natalie Raihall and Parker Sears consider their own mortality.

"She was always easy going and quick to smile bringing positivity to those around her," Raihall said as she read her own obituary. "She will be missed by all who knew and loved her."

Thankfully, it wasn't real.

"It was quite emotional. My mom definitely teared up a little bit, and then my dad came and read it, and he definitely teared up," Raihall said.

The obituary was part of a school assignment at James River High School where Raihall and a handful of other students played the "walking dead" for a day.

"I was pulled out of first period, I got my obituary read to my first period," Raihall said.

Raihall and her peers were examples of students killed in impaired or distracted driving crashes.

"My dad literally cried so hard," Raihall said before being interrupted by Sears who said "stop, I can't imagine you dead," before giving her friend a hug.

The assignment coincided with a presentation by VCU Health and Chesterfield first responders about what could happen if you drive while drunk or high, or while distracted.

"No pulse we're going to call time of death," a nurse participating in the presentation said.

"Our driver would be transported down to the county jail where he would be charged with multiple charges," a Chesterfield County Police Officer participating in the presentation added.

Students then heard from Brad Hughes who was hit by a pickup truck while he helped with a car accident on the side of the Midlothian Turnpike.

"I remind people every day that in five seconds you can take a life and in five seconds you can ruin somebody's life," Hughes told the students.

Life lessons at an early age that will hopefully prevent tragedy in the future.

"You could take someone's life so easily, and that's on you for the rest of your life," Raihall said.

"It would be so heartbreaking. I don't know how people deal with anything after that," Sears said.

The James River High School program was organized by Project IMPACT, a VCU Health Injury and Violence Prevention Program that trains 5,000 teenagers a year to avoid distracted driving and other avoidable trauma.

Project IMPACT visits local high schools to stage a car crash scene with firefighters, EMS, and police, as well as a trauma surgery, on high school property. After hands-on demonstrations, a trauma survivor speaks to the students.

“Our ultimate goal at VCU is to not see students come to our ER, and not see so many injuries that are preventable, to reduce deaths among youth, that's the ultimate goal,” Jerry Van Harris, program coordinator for Project IMPACT, said.

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