The crumpled chassis of two red Nissan Sentras blocked the front parking lot entrance of Dixon High School Thursday morning —props in the Every 15 Minutes education program that reenacts the aftermath of deadly crashes caused by driving under the influence of alcohol.
Dixon High School has planned this event for the past six months, coordinating the efforts of the Dixon Police and Fire Departments; the California Highway Patrol; Solano Coroner’s Office; local hospitals such as Kaiser Permanente in Vacaville and the California State Department.
The name of the program refers to the average rate that someone dies in the United States as a result of impaired driving.
“Drinking and driving is the number one cause of teenage deaths,” said CHP Officer Chris Parker. “We want to show them what happens in a DUI collision, and how it affects everybody’s life who is involved, without actually having the kids come out to the real scene of a crash.”
The vehicles were towed to Dixon High early in the morning and placed into a position replicating a T-bone style collision, setting the stage for a drama that starred Dixon High students posing as the victims and suspect of a drunk driving crash, as their peers watched closely from surrounding bleachers. Dixon High stages an Every 15 Minutes event (and will continue to do so) every two years, with just its juniors and seniors in attendance.
“This is a preventative measure for us to make sure the kids understand that there are consequences to drinking and driving,” said Dixon High Assistant Principal Nick Girimonte. “The numbers don’t lie. Our kids are out there, and they are drinking. We need to inform them that this is a dangerous choice, and it’s an even more dangerous choice when they get behind the wheel of a car.”
With the student portraying a drunk driver receiving a field sobriety test and police interrogation off to the side, emergency personnel carefully pried the other actors in the scene from the wreckage. All the while, a student dressed as the grim reaper and eight students in white makeup who were pulled out of class and designated as “the living dead” watched silently.
In all, three students—two passengers and one pedestrian—were put in ambulances and taken to Kaiser Permanente in Vacaville, while the driver of the car that was struck was pronounced dead on the scene and taken to the Solano County Morgue. According to the story, one student will pass away at the hospital, while another will suffer lifelong paralysis as a result.
The impact of recreating a fatal car crash involving minors was not taken lightly by any of the participants.
“You find yourself getting caught up in it,” said Officer Parker. “This will be my sixth program, and I still find myself getting emotionally involved. It’s hard to remember that it’s just a mock scene sometimes. The kids, the staff, and everyone involved does a really good job and it is very realistic.”
A film crew captured the entire event, and will edit together a video showing everything from the accident to a mock trial of the student responsible for the crash. Cameras will also be present when the parents of the students involved are notified of what happened, which is usually one of the most hard-hitting segments of the entire program.
“They told our parents that this was going to happen,” said Dixon High student Jordan Irvine. “The cops show up at all of our parents work and give them a notice saying that we died. It’s going to be hard to watch that. My parents are already telling me that they want me home tomorrow night just to see me.”
One of the people in attendance was Wendy Reynolds. Reynolds, a former district attorney, has been involved with “Every 15 Minutes” since 1998, traveling all over the country and sharing her personal experience with a drunk driver as a warning of how devastating the crime can be.
“When I was five years old a DUI driver crossed over the center divider and slammed head-on into my family’s car and killed everybody in my family except for me,” said Reynolds. “My mom, my dad, and my one-year-old sister were all killed. I was severely injured and almost died, but for some reason I lived, and my purpose became clear at five years old. I needed to spread my message and share my story and try to educate people on the dangers of drinking and driving.”
Reynolds will address the student body this morning during the Every 15 Minutes assembly at Dixon High. The assembly will also feature a screening of the behind-the-scenes video, as well as a mock-funeral service eulogizing the deceased students.
The “Every 15 Minutes” program hopes to not only give the students an idea of the enormous consequences of making reckless decisions, but also to open a healthy dialogue between Dixon parents and their children regarding drinking and driving.
“We’ve talked about drinking and driving before,” said Dixon High student Samantha Delmugnaio. “My parents always say ‘If you’re in that situation we’ll come and pick you up.’ Even though they don’t encourage drinking, they say ‘Don’t be afraid, just call us and we’ll pick you up, anytime.’”