Three teens in a speeding car race through a red light and collide with an elderly gentleman who denies he was texting while driving.
The 75-year-old man and two teenagers from the other car decide to file a civil lawsuit seeking damages from the teenage driver to cover the cost of their medical bills and compensate them for the harm they say the crash caused to their lives.
A case ripped from the headlines it was not. But the mock trial presented Wednesday at the Youth Leadership Summit presented by Drug Free Vigo County contained the elements of drama, drugs and lies mixed with humor and critical thinking.
Twenty-eight area middle and high school students signed on for the summit, which included a visit to the Statehouse on Tuesday and conversations with legislators.
“We wanted youth who were interested in being engaged with leadership advocacy in the community,” said Brandon Halleck, chief operation officer for Chances and Services for Youth.
The youth worked Tuesday with local attorneys on their legal arguments in the mock trail, and they also chose current event topics and learned to debate with the help of Judge Lakshmi “Lucky” Reddy from Vigo Superior Court 2.
Reddy and other local attorneys led discussions on constitutional rights and guided the debates.
The youth expressed their opinions on issues such as gun laws, freedom of speech and protesting, and kneeling during the national anthem.
“It’s fun because you want to see kids get involved, because they are going to be taking over in the future,” Reddy said.
The intent of the Drug Free Vigo County coalition is to help young people build skills to become model citizens.
“The whole point of the leadership conference is to teach children to think outside the box, how to advocate for things they believe.
“They enjoyed the trip to the statehouse to meet with Sen. Jon Ford and the Indiana Drug Czar Doug Huntsinger,” Halleck said.
Several local attorneys assisted the students in preparing their cases for the mock trial and sat with them, offering prompts for the questioning and encouragement. Attorney Michael Ellis wore a neck brace, back brace and shuffled to the witness stand on a walker as he bemoaned his fate at the hands of careless teenagers.
Judge Michael Sheehan of Vigo Superior Court 5 moderated as students asked pointed questions about impairment of the drivers and passengers in the civil case.
John Elliot, the elderly driver involved in the crash, was seeking $1 million in damages. It turns out that Elliot had been involved in eight other unrelated crashes involving texting and driving prior to the crash with Jimmy. It was possible he was taking advantage of the crash to gain some cash.
Young driver Jimmy Jackson said he knew his friends Cindy Thomas and Sam Smith should not have been in the car with him as they made a quick trip to McDonald’s, but the other teens jumped into the car on their own and were distracting him by taking Snapchat pics with their phones.
As it turns out, the student jury decided that youthful driver Jimmy was not to blame for injuries to the elderly man or to passenger Cindy, even though he ran a red light. But the jury decided Jimmy was 60% at fault for the injuries to his friend Sam, whose promising college football career was over before it started.
The students reviewed mock toxicology reports, a hospital evaluation of John Elliott and pointed out that some of the teens tested positive for marijuana and prescription drugs after the crash.
“I love this. I hope to go into law school,” Imer Holman, a Northview sophomore, said during a break in the trial after he questioned one of the plaintiffs about their involvement in the crash.
“This program is not just to help us learn more about law, but also about tobacco and vaping and e-cigarettes,” said Kavish Reddy, a sophomore at North Vigo High School.
The summit was hosted by Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. A Wednesday afternoon speaker closed out the two-day event.
Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.