Every 15 Minutes

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As juniors and seniors view the accident scene, the Grim Reaper walks by the DUI collision during the Every 15 Minutes presentation.

Ryan Emord, Staff Writer

During first and second period of just another normal day at school, 21 students were taken out of class by the Grim Reaper and pronounced dead.  Eleven by sixteen inch posters were displayed prominently where the students once sat. On Thursday, April 7, a two-car collision occurred outside Spring Valley High School on Twain. The driver at fault was a teenager under the influence. She was accompanied by another drunk teen with severe injuries. In the other car, one student was pronounced dead at the scene, and her passenger died at the hospital. However, this was only a demonstration of what the effects of driving while intoxicated.

Every fifteen minutes a teenager dies from an alcohol related driving accident. Drinking illegally and driving erratically, teenagers get behind the wheel and endanger the lives of the innocent around them, and themselves.

In the late 80’s the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department began a two-day program called “Every 15 Minutes.” Partnered with the Clark County and Las Vegas Fire Departments, University Medical Center, the Clark County Coroner’s Office, Mercy Air, Ambulance services and Palm Mortuary, the program’s focus is to present a lifelike situation to express the dangers of drunk driving to high school juniors and seniors.

“It shows the dangers of drunk driving by evoking different emotions students don’t usually encounter,” Dean Adam Taylor said.

To evoke these emotions, the program uses some of the school’s students in the day’s activities. Starting on day one, a student was proclaimed dead by the Grim Reaper every 15 minutes, and their obituaries were read and placed in the classroom. “I thought it was very realistic and when they read the obituary it was really sad because I was listed,” junior Jennifer Baade said.

This led up to the first day’s main demonstration, a staged car crash scene outside of the school. Junior and seniors were brought out to witness as first responders arrived at the scene and demonstrated what they do to save victim’s lives. Like it did for many students, this experience cemented the fact of the dangers of drunk driving for junior Kristianna Schofield-Kingston. “I’ve always thought negatively about drunk driving,” Kingston said. “This presentation assured me of its possibilities.”

Students proclaimed dead and those involved with the demonstration were secluded from communication with any family and friends until the conclusion of the assembly the second day. Both students and parents were sent to retreats to receive more information about the dangers of drunk driving, and to find comfort with each other. Both groups also wrote letters to either their parents or child, which put them in the situation where the child had really died. Two of these letters were read during the assembly. The assembly included sentiments from many of those involved in the program.

With impact speakers Officer Pete Bonasera, Vickie Johnson, and Captain McCarthy, the true message was sent to the students on the second day. “When I started this program I would look around and try to pick out which students we would save,” Officer Bonasera said. “Now I look around and wonder which one of you is next.”

The somber mood was carried throughout the assembly, but was accentuated by the words of Vickie Johnson. Mrs. Johnson lost her son in a drunk driving incident in 2005, and she shared his story to show to teens that the impact is real. Her words showed that a person doesn’t have to be the one drinking to be the one affected. Her son was a good student, a good son, and especially a good person, yet he was still affected not by an accident, but by another person’s conscious choice. “Driving drunk isn’t an accident. It’s a choice,” Mrs. Johnson said.

Captain McCarthy closed the program with a personal story of an experience he had when he was a teenager in high school. He was involved in a drunk driving incident where he was sober, but his two friends were not. He shared with the audience what he had learned that night and the next morning when he spoke to his father. “He said son I thank you for not drinking last night. I said thank you. Then he said, ‘But you were given a power that the other two didn’t have. You could have stopped them from getting in that car. You had a choice, and you made the wrong choice,’” Captain McCarthy said.

Both Captain McCarthy and Mrs. Johnson’s words made the entire demonstration real for many of the students as they left the assembly with choked back sobs, and the somber realization that drunk driving doesn’t only affect those 21 and older, but can have the deepest impact on themselves. “It was really eye opening,” Senior Christopher Kimmich said. “It was something that shouldn’t have needed to be said, but something that we needed to hear.”

“The students get to take back a lot of the emotions to share with their friends,” Dean Taylor said. These emotions have proven to be effective in the purpose of the program. Due to a combination of this program, organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Students Against Drunk Driving, and increased law enforcement, the time interval has lengthened from 15 to 32 minutes.

Senior Taylor Fuentes, who was a victim in the demonstration, hoped to play a key part in helping save her peers. “I know that for a lot of people this passed right over their heads. Either they found it a meaningless waste of time or didn’t care enough to pay attention but regardless of those people I hope that through this program we managed to reach at least one person. I personally hoped to communicate how important it is to be aware of how your decisions have consequences. Choosing to get drunk and then choosing to get behind the wheel will affect more that just one individual and I hope at least some of my classmates saw this.”

Drunk driving doesn’t just affect the driver. Instead, it affects the victim, the victim’s friends, the victim’s families, and even strangers who witness the after-effects. “An average of 40 people are affected by one drunk driving accident,” Dean Taylor said. “Friends and family, they are all affected by this one choice.”