To most of the juniors and seniors gathered in Northeast Jones’ football stadium on Friday morning, the scene before them was just an act. There was blood and chaos and crying over a dead student’s body after a crash.
But to Lori McJohnson, it was all too real. She snapped the students to attention when she took the microphone.
“I heard a couple of you on the way here say, ‘Oh, no, this,’” she said. “Yes, this … it’s real.”
And it was made even more real by the school bus that was used in the annual mock crash demonstration that correlates with prom season. Bus No. 573 — the same one her son, 5-year-old North Jones kindergarten student Nathan Key, stepped off of when he was hit and killed in front of his Houston Road home on Dec. 11, 2009 — was used.
“It’s your decision to drink or be distracted in any way while driving,” she said, and those split-second decisions can alter the future forever, she emphasized. “I didn’t want to have to tell you that my child was killed by someone who didn’t take the time to make the right decision, but I am.”
The man who struck and killed Nathan was ordered to serve 20 years in prison, and McJohnson and Nathan’s father Andy Key have been on a crusade since then to get tougher penalties for drivers who pass a school bus. Nathan’s Law, introduced and pushed by Sen. Chris McDaniel, was passed to do just that.
“Is it worth 20 years of your life?” McJohnson asked. “Help each other make good decisions and the right choices.”
She also spoke to students in the Performing Arts Center, along with the Mississippi Highway Patrol, before coming out to the mock crash.
In the scenario that played out in front of the NEJ students, a a teen who was drunk driving crashed into a school bus.
Members of the Jones County Sheriff’s Department, Powers Volunteer Fire Department, EMServ Ambulance Service, Jones County Coroner’s Office, Memory Chapel Funeral Home, the WNEJ News Crew, the NEJ Drama Club and teacher Becky Thrash made the depiction authentic.
“The consequences are real,” said Lance Chancellor, who is with the JCSD and Powers VFD. “We’ve put too many teenagers in bodybags over the years. Please be safe.”