MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
On a Friday night at approximately 9:50 p.m., two Marines are having drinks at a bar when they receive a call from a friend who lives in the Vista Del Sol housing area. The friend had gotten in a fight with his wife and she had left the house, taking the only car. He asks the two Marines if they would like to come over for drinks.
At the same time, a family of four is driving home from a night out at the movies. The mother and father are discussing upcoming holiday plans.
Meanwhile, the two Marines decide to go pick up their friend, despite the fact they had been drinking for more than an hour and a half. As both vehicles near their desired destinations, the lives of everyone involved would soon come crashing together.
This set the scene of a simulation put on by the Combat Center’s Safety Office Wednesday at Victory Field from 9 to 10 a.m. as part of the Fiscal Year 2009 Post Holiday Back in the Saddle Stand Down.
In a joint effort with the Combat Center Fire Department, Provost Marshal’s Office and Inspector General, the goal of the simulation was to show the harsh reality of what can happen to people involved in an alcohol-related car accident.
“Back in the Saddle’ is an operational pause for everyone coming off holiday to spend some quality time and consider the safety message before going back to supporting the Marine Corps,” said Dave Horn, the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command Safety Division director. “We’ve invited everyone on the installation as a joint effort to reach out to all the commands. Safety is everybody’s responsibility.”
Last year, Combat Center personnel racked up a total of 2,830 traffic violations, including speeding, seatbelt, parking and cellular phone infractions. Out of these statistics, 138 of the incidents were alcohol related.
During the simulation, to wrecked vehicles were staged in front of the bleachers for the assembled crowd, and volunteers from PMO’s Military Working Dog section played the roles of the two drivers, both of whom survived the mock crash. When first responders from PMO and Center Fire arrived on the scene, the drunk-driving Marine was stumbling and limping around, screaming “Help me! Somebody call 911!,” repeatedly at the top of his lungs. His buddy, played by a rescue training mannequin, was unconscious in the passenger seat with severe head trauma.
In the van carrying the family, the “father” was trapped, his hysterical cries for help barely audible from inside the vehicle. His wife, who was played by another mannequin in the passenger seat, and 6-year-old child, another dummy, were “killed” on impact. The 3-year-old child, also played by a dummy, was unhurt, but also trapped inside.
The fire and ambulance crews navigated through the twisted metal of the wreckage to rescue the trapped passengers while military police interviewed the injured Marine. When they determined the Marine was intoxicated, he was promptly arrested.
Once the rest of the mock victims were extracted from what was left of the vehicles and carted away in ambulances, a military funeral procession walked on to the field. Four Marines clad in dress blues carried a casket in front of the audience. An American flag was draped over the lid, signifying one potential outcome of a DUI–a military funeral.
Taps were played as the flag was folded and a 21-gun salute was fired in honor of the deceased Marine. Once the flag was folded, a member of the funeral detail presented it to a member of the audience. The casket was loaded into the back of a hearse and driven off the field.
A crash survivor’s tragic tale:
At this point, Lance Cpl. David Delk, a Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, rifleman, stepped onto the field. Delk was involved in a high-speed car accident April 21. He thanked the audience for coming to the presentation, then began to tell his story.
The Dallas native described the fateful night, saying he and two friends were returning from a liberty period, which they spent in Phoenix with the family of the driver, Lance Cpl. Scott Bailey.
They left Phoenix at approximately 7 p.m. the night before they were due back at the Combat Center. Although it was getting late, the three Marines had plenty of time to spare.
Once they reached Highway 177, Bailey brought the vehicle to speeds exceeding 120 miles per hour. By the time the trio reached Highway 62, Delk had warned Bailey several times about the high rate of speed.
“I kept telling him to slow down,” said Delk. “I told him ‘there’s no need to speed.’”
Despite numerous warnings from Delk, Bailey continued traveling fast. Somewhere along the road, Bailey lost control of the vehicle. The car flew off the side of the highway and rolled six times into a ditch.
Although Bailey was tragically killed in the crash, Delk and the other Marine survived, but suffered severe injuries. Thankfully, everyone was still wearing their seatbelts.
During subsequent attempts to save his life, Delk lost four feet of intestine. He also broke almost every rib on his right side, fractured two vertebrae in his lumbar spine and both his lungs were collapsed. He was put in a medically-induced coma for 12 days and lost nearly 60 pounds throughout the course of his six-week hospital stay.
Delk continues to mourn his friend Bailey, despite the accident.
“Bailey was a great guy,” said Delk. “Nobody ever had a problem with him. He’s the kind of guy you remember for the rest of your life. Now he’s dead because he did something stupid.
“He’s dead and two Marines were injured,” he added. “We’ll probably have problems for the rest of our lives. Worst of all, his family wakes up every day, still in disbelief.”
Even though Delk survived the accident, he said he feels as though he will never be the same again.
“It’s a challenge every day,” said the 19-year-old victim. “I can’t begin to describe to you the emotional and mental problems I’ve faced. I can only tell you my story – my experience.
“I’m not trying to scare any of you,” he added. “I just hope you can take something from what happened to me and make the right decisions in the future.”
Horn, a Chicago native, also hopes the audience will be able to draw from Delk’s tragic experience and make smart choices when they’re out on the road.
“This doesn’t just involve drinking and driving,” he said. “This could happen in any situation. People can never really understand it unless they’ve been there. Hopefully we can make these people more aware than they already are.
“Our commanding general and chief of staff are truly concerned for the safety and well-being of everyone on the installation,” added Horn. “With this presentation, hopefully we can get through to someone so they don’t become a statistic.”
After Delk’s speech, Lt. James Daly, a civilian traffic chief with PMO, demonstrated the effectiveness of seatbelts using a crash simulator, which is designed to recreate a 30-mile-per-hour collision. Two Marines from the audience volunteered to be the “crash dummies.” The test proved wearing a seatbelt during a car crash greatly reduces the risk of injury or death.
“We just want to show you that seatbelts can save lives,” said Daly, a Penrose, Colo., native. “These things really do work.”
After seeing first-hand the effects irresponsible decision making can have on safe driving, one must make a choice. With another holiday weekend merely a few hours away, what choice will you make? Will you return to work safe and sound, or will you become another story?