Every 15 Minutes

Alex Edgar, Editor In Chief

Every fifteen minutes, someone in the United States dies from an alcohol related traffic collision. Teen drivers are 3 times more likely than more experienced drivers to be in a fatal crash. Drinking any alcohol greatly increases this risk for teens. Since drinking and driving is a major problem in our country, the California Highway Patrol sponsors a program called Every 15 Minutes to make students more aware about the danger and loss that comes from driving under the influence of alcohol. In Simi Valley, Royal and Simi Valley High School’s PTSAs alternate each year with the duty of coordinating the program. The Every 15 Minutes brochure states: “It challenges them to think about drinking, driving, personal safety, and the responsibility of making mature decisions. Along with a reenactment of an alcohol related crash scene, the program also focuses on the impact that their decisions would have on their friends and family.”

On March 20, during 2nd period, our principal Mr. Derrick, came on the announcements and regretfully informed the school that a student had “passed away” the night before due to a drunk driving accident. Mr. Derrick proceeded to announce student “deaths” every 15 minutes until halfway through 4th period. After every “death”, a police officer, parent helpers, and the grim reaper came into the students classroom and placed a single red rose on the desk they would’ve been sitting in had they not “died” the night before. The police officer then read to the class an eulogy that the “dead’ student’s parents had written in preparation for their “death”. Halfway through 4th period, all juniors and seniors were called to see the simulated crash scene of a drunk driving incident that had caused two “deaths” and one “critical injury” that were announced earlier that school day. Once students arrived at the crash scene, they sat down on the bleachers and looked upon a curtained scene in the middle of the parking lot. Then, the curtains fell and the students began to take in the sight before them. In front of them were the two cars crushed against each other, the bloody and disfigured victims sprawled inside and on top of the car, and the ghosts of all those who “died” but were not in that crash stood around the scene. From miles away the sound of police and ambulance sirens could be heard. When they arrived at the scene, they began to investigate and use the jaws of life to remove the “critically injured” and “dead” from the cars. After removing everyone from the cars, the police gave the suspected drunk driver, senior Lillian Nice, a sobriety test and she was found to be intoxicated. They arrested her and took her to jail to await trial. Soon after, a hearst came and picked up the “dead”, senior Caleb Hicks and junior Kylie Dunkleberger, while an ambulance drove away with junior Breahna Verdugo who was “critically injured” and fighting for her life. As day one ended, the spectating students went back to their regular school day with the images of what they witnessed staying ingrained in their heads. Meanwhile the students involved with Every 15 Minutes were transported to their hotel rooms at Best Western Posada Royale. They had slept there the night before and had no access to the outside world in order to keep their friends in the dark about their involvement. While at the hotel they held bonding events and made the students write letters home to their family and friends as if they had actually died, giving them the chance to say goodbye and thank their loved ones.

The following day, March 21st during third period, the juniors and seniors were called to report to the gym. In the gym, ASB President senior Humna Ahmad and Principal Keith Derrick welcomed the crowd and introduced the program. Then, everyone watched a video documenting the events leading up to, of, and after the crash. This video, produced by our dedicated video production students, gave the students and inside look into the party where the driver got drunk and her boyfriend didn’t stop her from driving her car intoxicated. The crash itself and the events that the students had witnessed were also included in the video. It also showed Breahna Verdugo at the hospital with her weeping family praying for her recovery, the devastation of the parents of the deceased, Caleb Hicks and Kylie Dunkleberger, and the trial of Lillian Nice who was convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. At the end of the video an “In Memoriam” was shown honoring all the victims who had “died” in car crashes the night before. Our own video production students stayed at Royal overnight working on this video and our theater arts students helped with the make up for the living dead throughout this production. After the video a speaker, Mr. Matt Dies, came to talk to the students about his daughter’s death in a drunk driving incident and how devastating drunk driving can be. In order to make sure what happened to his daughter never happens to any other family, he started the Vow4Mal Foundation to “educate, prevent, and eliminate the excuses for (as well as changing the stereotypes) about drinking and driving. At the end of these two traumatic days of deep thought and emotion, every student left with a free t-shirt and hopefully a better understanding of the consequences of drunk driving.

One of the participants, Breahna Verdugo, called her experience with Every 15 Minutes “life changing” and said that it “felt legitimately real” because of how the program was run and the emotions it brought out of everyone who participated. Some of the most touching moments for her was “seeing [her] parents in agony over her death, being driven to the hospital in an ambulance, and the prayers and love that were spread throughout the campus because of this program.” One of the walking dead, junior Leah Nelson, said “Being a part of the Every Fifteen Minutes program was very emotional. I don’t think any of us truly knew what we were getting into. After the whole process we came out much closer and much smarter. I know that in the future I’ll be not only cautious of myself but also others when it comes to safe driving.” Junior Emily Dickey, a spectator of the Every 15 Minutes program said that “watching the Every 15 Minutes video and seeing how much drunk driving impacted the lives of my friends and the  people I’ve been in school with all my life, really made me realize the true dangers of drunk driving.”