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Program Warns Of Drinking, Driving
Lives Changed
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“Every 15 minutes someone is killed or seriously injured in an alcohol-related collision.”
That was the sobering statistic delivered by California Highway Patrol officer Eric Parsons to juniors and seniors at Oakdale High School recently, coupled with a staged drama of a drunk driving car crash and the resulting tragedies.
“The Every 15 Minutes program is an intense program, which deals with the ramifications of teenage drinking and driving,” said OHS Vice Principal and event coordinator Diana Crofts. “It is based on the fact that someone is killed or injured ‘Every 15 Minutes’ by a drinking driver. The program is designed to develop not only an awareness of drinking, driving and the effects, but also an empathy with friends, family and loved ones. The program is now nationwide, and is sponsored by the California Office of Traffic Safety and the California Highway Patrol, from whom we have received a $9,999 grant for implementation of the program. Our program has been in the planning stages since December. Several businesses have donated support to our program, as well as 30 students and their families.”
Starting at 8 a.m. on Thursday, April 30, CHP officer Parsons and the Grim Reaper played by volunteer Rick Crofts visited classrooms without warning and pulled individual students out of class who would become the “walking dead.” The student’s obituary was read to their classmates, the student was escorted away, and had no contact with friends or family “left behind” until after the two-day event was completed on May 1.
By mid-morning on Thursday, the entire junior and senior classes were watching a vignette of a drunk driving collision with emergency services responding, while student actors played the roles of the injured and dying. They were taken away via medi-flight, ambulance, and hearse, while the DUI driver was taken away in a patrol car. Family members — who agreed to participate ahead of time — were given “death notifications” and visited their children at the funeral home and hospital. The driver was booked into jail, destined to spend 30 years in prison.
“My family is really close to me … It’s kind of a wake up call that you’re not invincible,” said senior Kelsey Coppetti, who participated as one of the walking dead. “I think it’ll make us all closer … We’ve never really brought in the fact that something like this could happen.
“I think, if anything, (participating) will give (friends) a wake up call … because everyone really does think it’ll never happen to them or one of their friends … I think it’s a big deal in Oakdale because it’s a small town and a lot of people (drink and party) on the weekends because there’s nothing else to do.”
Accident scene participant junior Manuel Bairos played the role of a passenger who was killed at the scene. He admitted that he had been previously involved in a real life drunk driving accident with friends. He said they were lucky and only had minor injuries but that they were “being stupid.” He said now he’s vigilant about not getting into a car with a driver who’s been drinking and he talks to friends about not getting behind the wheel or riding with a drunk driver.
“If it stops one person from drinking and driving, it’ll be worth it to me,” he said of his participation in the event.
“It’s hard on (my parents to participate). It’ll be real emotional,” he added. “They know it’s fake but they’re gonna do it because of the cause that it’s for and that so no parent has to go through it.”
All juniors and seniors attended the mock funeral on Friday in the main gym. The walking dead came in at the beginning of the assembly following a casket. The “paralyzed” student came in via wheelchair and the driver, wearing prison stripes and shackles, was walked in by a police officer. A professional video of the previous day’s events, including events in the emergency room, jail and mortuary involving the participating families was shown.
Crofts reported that Every 15 Minutes is purposely staged to take place right before prom and graduation — two events where students are more frequently caught up in situations involving drinking and driving.
“We hope that it saves a life down the road,” Crofts said. “We hope that it keeps kids from drinking and driving. And if they do decide to drink, to get a designated driver.”
She said that student participants were randomly selected from different campus groups so as to make an impact on others and be able to take the message back to their peers.
At the end of the first day of the event, the student participants went to a 24-hour retreat. The retreat activities included having the students use various levels of “beer goggles,” and hear speakers from Precision Driving School, MADD, a trauma nurse, and the CHP. The students also wrote letters to their parents and lit candles for the circle of light.
Many of the letters they wrote began with, “Dear Mom and Dad, Today I died in an alcohol-related accident…” Some of these letters were shared at the mock funeral on the second day. Some parents also wrote and read their letters to their children at the funeral.
Guest speaker Michele Fuller was an athlete with plans to play softball in college after she graduated from nearby Denair High School. She told the OHS students the story of her high school graduation. As she spoke, photos of her and her friends smiling in their caps and gowns following their graduation ceremony flashed on a screen behind her.
She told of how she and her friends went to a party that night and got drunk but they hadn’t thought to designate a driver. They left the party to go to another party and crashed on a country road. The driver had lost control, with the vehicle rolling multiple times and stopping when it hit a tree. The photos on the screen behind Fuller then showed shocking images: her swollen, blackened and bloodied face that had been scraped on the asphalt during the wreck. One of her friends died in the crash, another died at the hospital, the driver walked away with minor injuries, and Fuller’s dreams of playing sports in college were dashed.
“When I was 17, I had the world in the palm of my hand. I felt I was invincible,” Fuller said. “…I was supposed to spend my senior trip in Hawaii. Instead, I spent it in the hospital.”
She recounted how she spent weeks recovering from her injuries, including a shattered ankle that the doctors had said would prevent her from walking ever again. She eventually did regain the ability walk, but now, years later, she still cannot run.
“What you decide does not just affect you,” she said. “My whole community was torn up over the accident.”
Many students became emotional over the intense drama of the event but counselors were available for those who wished to talk to someone.