Horrifying scene sends message
The Every 15 Minutes program changed many perspectives at Sutter Union High School. The Chico Police Department started this program in 1995 based on the statistic that someone dies as the result of an alcohol-related car collision every 15 minutes.
On April 4, a dying heartbeat could be heard over the intercom every quarter hour at SUHS. Students were periodically removed from their classes by a Grim Reaper, symbolizing that they had just died in a DUI car accident.
Those students went to the music room to transform into a "living dead" victim. As they stood next to their tombstones during break and lunch, many students were confused about what was happening, but the friends of those who had "died" were affected deeply.
Laura Burroughs, an SUHS freshman, was among the students who saw her friend, Helen Jackson, standing next to a tombstone. "I felt really sad; (Helen) was my best friend who had so much ahead of her, and it was all basically ruined by a drunk driver. I know it was fake, but it still got to me," Laura said.
At around 11:30 a.m., an emergency phone call was heard and the student body were escorted outside, where two mangled cars were stationed. Screaming ensued and tears were shed as students, who were designated to be in the car crash, learned that they had accidentally killed several close friends by drinking alcohol and driving.
As the scene progressed, it transformed from a collaboration of theatrics into an event that felt terribly authentic. Hearing an actress crying out apologies for killing her close friend was hard for the other students to handle. As the police, ambulance and fire departments rushed to help, the student body watched intently as their siblings and friends were designated either as "living dead" or "crash scene victims."
SUHS senior Heather Keen related strongly to the scene. "Seeing someone from my senior class going through something like that — it seemed so lifelike. It made me cry because I have known some people since sixth grade. It also reminded me of two of my friends that died from a drunk driver. You can stop your friends and family, and your friends and family can stop you, but you can't stop a stranger," Heather said.
Later that evening, retreats for both students and parents gave all an opportunity to think about how important it is to cherish life, protect one another and lead by example.
The next morning at an assembly, Lynne Goodwin spoke about losing her daughter and how it radically impacted her life and the lives around her. Because of one poor decision, an 18-year-old drank and drove, killing her daughter, Casey, while she was driving home from college to celebrate her mother's birthday. Goodwin encouraged students to use her story as a reminder to make good decisions — ones that could save lives.
Taylor Heryford, an SUHS senior who was a part of the crash scene, said, "It had such a big impact, more than I expected. A lot of people took the message of Every 15 Minutes to heart."
Teenagers sometimes feel that they are invincible to death. We don't worry about how getting into a car could potentially get us into an accident. We think about passing our math test, making sure to do well in sports and keeping up with our hectic schedules.
The truth is, we are never promised tomorrow. That is why we should value the time we have now. By making good choices and being safe behind the wheel, we allow ourselves to drive forward toward a bright future.
Nola and Jayna Dodd are seniors at Sutter Union High School. Their column appears every six weeks in Education.