About 800 high school students sat in complete silence and watched a grisly car crash scene unfold before them on Tuesday
Corona del Mar High School juniors and seniors learned about the dangerous consequences of drinking and driving during a simulated DUI traffic collision and assembly, as part of the Every 15 Minutes program.
“Hopefully, it gets them to stop and think about life and how tragic this can be,” said Newport Beach Police Chief Jay Johnson.
The staged accident involved two vehicles, one flipped upside down, mangled on the street, at Mar Vista and Domingo drives, just behind the school.
A student witness called 911 and reported the accident, while fellow students, school staff and others listened in. Emergency personnel jump into action, sending the “injured” students off in an ambulance, the “dead” students off in body bags and performing a field sobriety test on the driver.
Students involved in the accident had on professional makeup depicting their injuries and the grim reaper circled the scene.
Having that visual can make quite an impact, Johnson said.
“This is a very realistic, dramatic, and interactive exercise,” police spokeswoman Kathy Lowe wrote in a press release.
There were two injured, two deceased and one arrested. All CdM students.
Seeing fellow classmates involved also made the message more “real,” chief Johnson said, and CdMHS juniors Alexi Molinari and Josh Roossin, agreed.
“There are serious consequences,” Roossin said. “One mistake can ruin your life (and others).”
Both students said they learned a lot from the event.
“I know it happens, but to see it first-hand… It’s very eye-opening,” said Molinari.
The dead students were taken away in body bags by the mortuary, injured students went to the hospital where a doctor talks to them and their parents about their injuries, and the arrested student visits jail and meets with an attorney.
There were 28 student volunteers that represented those who are killed in DUI accidents. The “grim reaper” pulled one student from class every 15 minutes, to signify someone that dies in the US every 15 minutes from an alcohol related traffic collision.
The volunteers then become the “living dead,” according to the Every 15 Minutes website, they don’t speak or interact with other students and have their faces painted white. The living dead students and grim reaper followed the hearse away from the scene of the accident.
“The crash is staged, the emotions are real,” the program website states.
Kids see so much in movies and on TV nowadays, said NBPD school resource officer Vladimir Anderson, it makes it seem like it won’t ever happen to them.
“They’re kind of numb,” Anderson said. But, “when they see their classmates [in the simulated DUI accident], it hits home.”
They often hear about accidents involving drunk drivers on the news, Johnson agreed, but these are their friends involved, he said, and they are seeing everything firsthand.
“This is as real as it can be,” said Johnson, adding that the students are taken away from their parents that night, their eulogies are read and even visit a mortuary.
Parents receive death notifications from police officers and receive letters from their kids.
It’s very powerful, for both students and parents, Johnson said.
“It’s pretty intense, pretty emotional,” he said.
The program “offers real-life experience without the real-life risks,” the program website states.
“If it changes the actions of one [student],” then it’s made a difference, Johnson said.
The program continued on Wednesday with an assembly where several of the students’ eulogies were read, a fake funeral was held, and a guest speaker Gloria Morales. She is the mother of Crystal Morales, the 17-year-old Newport Harbor High School student who was critically injured in December when she was hit by a driver allegedly under the influence while in a crosswalk by the school.
“There won’t be a dry eye in the house,” Johnson said.
Newport Beach fire and police departments, the California Highway Patrol, Hoag Hospital, G&W Towing, the California Office of Traffic Safety, Knott’s Berry Farm, and the Newport Beach Police Association hosted the annual program. Each year the event switches between CdM and Newport Harbor high schools.
Funding for the “Every 15 Minutes” Program was made possible by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.