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Every 15 Minutes program teaches students the dangers of drunken driving
Friends and family sat in tears as they watched the scene of carnage. Loved ones dead and dying, the result of an alcohol-related car crash.
Although the crash scene was a staged, it didn't seem to lessen the intensity felt by those participating in the Every 15 Minutes program held at Corning High School on Monday and Tuesday.
The program challenges high school students about drinking, driving, personal safety and responsibility of making mature decisions.
"If this doesn't open their eyes, I don't know what will," said Pat Sharp, whose granddaughter, Jordyn Raker, was "killed" in the crash.
Senior Roberto Espinosa said the experience will definitely impact his decisions about drinking and driving.
"This really tells the story of what happens when you don't make it home," he said.
The program was held throughout the campus starting Monday morning as the Grim Reaper walked into a different classroom every 15 minutes and escorted a student from the room.
Corning police Sgt. Jeremiah Fears then read the student's eulogy to those left behind.
"That defines how the program got its name," explained California Highway Patrol Officer Shaun Hoover.
"Statistically, every 15 minutes in this country someone is killed or critically injured in an alcohol-related traffic collision."
As the Grim Reaper was claiming his causalities, a Tehama County coroner and chaplain were notifying the parents of each victim.
"It was shocking. It was so sad and difficult. There are no words to describe the feeling," said Mary Mitchell, whose daughter, Karissa Mitchell, was one of those taken away.
"Even though we knew it wasn't real, it still left you with a terrible feeling," said Mitchell's father, Ryan, a Chico police officer. "As an officer, you always know there is that possibility. It was hard for me being on the opposite side of such an experience."
In the meantime, a mock-crash was being set-up in the school's football stadium. Empty beer cans littered the ground around the car.
Lying across the hood of the mangled vehicle was the "lifeless" body of one of five teens riding inside the car. Partially thrown from the back seat was another victim, his body broken and bleeding. The driver and two other injured victims were still inside the vehicle.
Everything in place, it was time for the entire student body to come to the stadium bleachers, sit down and view the disturbing scene.
As the assembly quieted down, the stadium loud speakers rang out with the voices of a 911 emergency call.
"There's been a crash," said a teen voice. "There are people in the car and it looks really bad. They're injured bad. Hurry."
Soon fire engines, an ambulance, police vehicles and a CHP helicopter arrived.
A fireman placed a yellow tarp over the body on the car's hood.
Other victims were placed in the ambulance and helicopter to be transported to area hospitals.
Awhile later, the parents of the victim in the ambulance received a visit from the coroner and chaplain.
CHP Officer Troy Somavia took Cecelia Espinoza out of the wrecked car. He conducted a field sobriety test on her, which she failed. He then gave the teen a breathalyzer test.
The girl was placed under arrest.
"Let me explain something to you," the officer told the driver, his voice heard over the stadium sound system. "This is important, you are 18, so this is a felony. If you are found guilty of this you will go to state prison. ... Do you understand that you killed somebody today?"
Watching from the stadium bleachers, sophomore student Kierra Martin said the entire scenario was "very scary."
"This could really happen. People's lives could really be in danger; they could really die," she said.
Student Hannah Hoitink said the experience made her think seriously about drinking and driving.
"This was effective, definitely effective," she said.
The assembly ended with Corning High principal Charlie Troughton reading Raker's eulogy.
"I'm dreading the coroner coming to my home," said Raker's mother, Sherie. "This is too real."
The student body assembled again on Tuesday, this time to view a video of the program produced by student Edger Diego.
Following the video, victims of the mock-crash and their parents read letters they had written as if the scenario was real.
"Mom and dad, today I died," read Nicholas Hoag. "I won't be able to say good night to you. There are so many things I took for granted."
Many tears were shed - age and gender didn't matter.
The final speaker was Bay Area Judge Wendy Reynolds, who at the age of 5 was the sole survivor of a crash that took the lives of her parents and younger sister.
"It was a head-on collision and the driver of the pickup that hit us was drunk," she said. "I lost my entire family because a guy chose to drink and drive. He made that choice. He killed my family."
The program was organized through the efforts of the CHP, local emergency and law enforcement agencies and the high school's Associated Student Body under the direction of Leadership Class adviser Justine Felton.
The high school administration and maintenance, the Parents Club and Curt Eller.
Phil's Towing provided the wrecked vehicles.