The deafening crash-sound of two cars colliding, the whirring noise of helicopters, and the seemingly endless wail of the sirens blistering out from ambulances, fire trucks and police cars were all part of the gruesomely unvarnished simulation of a car accident at the Trojan Stadium on Thursday, April 26.
Sniffles, sobs and the mourning cries of losing a loved one filled the Center for the Arts at a follow-up assembly on Friday, April 27.
On those two days, CVHS presented its own biennial event of “Every 15 Minutes.” With a name that refers to the average rate at which Americans die in drunk driving accidents, “Every 15 Minutes” is a worldwide educational program. At CVHS, this program targets juniors and seniors.
Selected students participated in this dramatic event; most of them represented the “Living Dead,” and had their faces painted ghostly white and their eyes rimmed with black. Every 15 minutes during first and second periods on Thursday, a police officer entered the classrooms of Living Dead students as their names were announced over the loudspeaker. The police officers then commenced to read off loving obituaries about the students and placed roses on their desks.
Seniors Jeremy Lawrence, Holly Talmadge, Celeste Martore, Erin Sullivan, and Matt Lindberg, and juniors Grace Cho and Caleb Kim were directly involved in the reenactment of an actual car accident. Seniors and juniors who watched from the bleachers of the stadium experienced firsthand the process of the whole incident. Firefighters and paramedics dealt with getting the injured students out of the smashed cars, onto gurneys, and into an ambulance or a helicopter to be taken to the hospital (Kim, Cho, and Martore). The coroner had the role of dealing with the fatality (Talmadge), and the police officers investigated and arrested the “drunk driver” (Lawrence).
“Overall, I was excited and anticipated the event in the weeks to come. But when I stepped onto the field, I felt numb. Because I was a participant in the crash scene, I witnessed it like a real event. Everything was improvised so I didn’t know what to expect even though I knew who was going to ‘die’ and what was going to happen. After the crash, I felt as though I had just watched an actual crash,” Lindberg stated.
That night, those selected students went on a life-changing, overnight retreat in Danville so that their families and friends could feel their absence. They participated in team building activities, story sharing, and listened to guest speakers. They also wrote letters to their loved ones and explored the retreat center.
“The retreat center was very relaxing and peaceful and it was a great setting for such an intense experience,” said junior Brooke Costello, one of the students participating.
The next day, CVHS students paraded up to the Center for the Arts with tissues in hand, knowing it would be a sentimental experience. There, an emotional video was shown of the crash incident leading up to the hospital emergency centers, the morgue, the police department jail, and the courthouse. The victims’ parents of the car accident were introduced in the video and, after being informed by police or medics that their son or daughter was involved in a car accident, acted out the sorrow of their losses.
The assembly was hosted by Chris Graham, the program coordinator and retired police officer. He proceeded to tell students about a motorcycle accident that occurred due to the consumption of alcohol.
Kassandra Kearns, the only survivor from a traumatizing car accident, shared her inspiring story by reading off a paper—a result of brain damage from the calamity that affected her ability to remember things. The Living Dead students were given the opportunity to read their letters to their parents, and the parents were given the opportunity to do the same for their children.
Many students who did not participate in Every 15 Minutes were greatly affected vicariously through this whole experience.
“It had one of the biggest impacts of my life. I always knew not to drink and drive but just seeing the reality of it is painstakingly real. I wish people would make better choices not only for themselves, but for those at risk with a drunk driver on the road,” commented senior Juan Barrera.
The Every 15 Minutes program pushes students to realize that they should make mature, responsible decisions, regardless if it is drinking, texting, or not paying attention while driving.
“Every 15 Minutes is not a scare tactic to freak kids into submission but a simulation that allows us to see what would happen if we would get in a car with a drunk driver. Worst of all, it shows us who we would hurt,” said Lindberg.