Sunday, 19 May 2024

Every 15 Minutes: Mock collision emphasizes dangers of drinking, driving

The grim reaper looks on as Lakeport Fire paramedics pull victims from a mock collison scene on Wednesday, April 15, 2009, at Clear Lake High School in Lakeport. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



Editor's note: The following story recounts a reenacted fatal crash scene, with staged rescue and arrests. No students were actually harmed, killed or arrested.

LAKEPORT – Dylan Rose is a bit of a cut up, and used to getting laughs from his fellow students at Clear Lake High School.

But no one was laughing when, during third period class on Wednesday, the grim reaper strode into classroom 119, his sickle looming in his hand, and plucked the 16-year-old junior out of class.

“I usually cover up things with laughter but I felt like crying,” Rose said.

An obituary for the teen was then read, describing his death in a fatal auto collision – along with two other teens – which was caused by alcohol. A red rose was left in his seat.

Rose was among 21 students pulled from classes – symbolic for being taken too early from their lives – and kept segregated from fellow students for the rest of the school day as part of the Every 15 Minutes program. The program takes its name from the statistic that a young person dies every 15 minutes from an alcohol-related incident.

Alexandra Wiggs, 17, a senior and a student coordinator for this year's Every 15 Minutes program at Clear Lake High, helped create the list of student casualties – along with fellow student coordinator Martin Diaz – in her work with the program over the last several months. She saw firsthand the reactions of her fellow students.

“I've gone into a lot of classrooms this morning, and I've seen a lot of disbelief, I've seen a lot of crying,” Wiggs said.

Diaz said they chose students of different backgrounds to serve as the mock casualties. Not all of the obituaries recounted deaths in DUI collisions; one student, said Diaz, was portrayed as having become drunk and drowned in a swimming pool.

Only the students working on the program in various capacities – either as coordinators or “casualties” – knew the Every 15 Minutes program was taking place on the school beginning on Wednesday. So Wiggs said it was a surprise to everyone.




The "living dead" -- students who were pulled out of class every 15 minutes during the school day -- look on during the mock collision on Wednesday, April 15, 2009, at Clear Lake High School. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



The element of surprise is important to the program, which hammers home the message of how quickly, and unexpectedly, young lives can be lost when alcohol and vehicles mix.

The last time the two-day program was held at Clear Lake High was 2005. It's scheduled every four years so that every student experiences the program at least once in their high school career. This year's event was coordinated by Dale Stoebe and Jarvis Leishman, officers with the Lakeport Police Department.

Student casualties continued to be pulled out of classes all day, but the day's main event was held just before the lunch hour – a reenactment of a fatal two-car collision, staged on Hartley Street, which runs behind the high school.

Hundreds of students watched as police and fire department personnel responded to the scene, where three classmates were trapped in the crumpled cars.

The grim reaper hovered nearby, running his hand over the blade of his sickle, as firefighters pulled the teens from the cars, using saws and axes.

Several of the “living dead” – including Rose and fellow students who had been pulled out of class earlier in the day – looked on, their faces painted with heavy white makeup, their eyes ringed in black.

One of the mock collision victims was reported to be dead at the scene. Two others were listed as critical, with one of them suffering an amputated hand in the staged crash.

A fourth student was arrested for driving under the influence, and was taken to the jail and processed as he would be in the case of a real arrest.

A Lake County Sheriff's unit showed up to do coroner duties. Two coroners documented the scene, examining the body of the mock casualty, covered in a bright yellow sheet, while a sheriff's chaplain looked on. Chapel of the Lakes Mortuary later came to transport the body.




The mock collision resulted in three "fatalities." The scene was staged on Hartley Street behind Clear Lake High School in Lakeport on Wednesday, April 15, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



One of the staged collision victims was transported via Lakeport Fire ambulance to Sutter Lakeside Hospital's emergency room, where they were pronounced dead. REACH air ambulance landed at the school's football field and transported another victim to Sutter Lakeside also, where that student became the third “fatal” of the day.

Death notification teams were later dispatched to contact the parents of the students involved in the staged collision.

What followed was a painful 24 hours, in which parents and children, and friends and classmates, were separated.

The students spent the night away from home at the local National Guard armory, where Wiggs said they'll have team building exercises. There also will be the heart-wrenching work of writing goodbye letters to their families.

The separation will end with a Thursday morning assembly, where a mock funeral will be held, and some of those goodbye letters will be shared, both by students and parents. Guest speakers at the event will include Josh and Laura Farris, California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia, Sheriff Rod Mitchell, Clear Lake High Principal Steve Gentry, Lakeport Police Chief Kevin Burke and Leishman.

Afterward, parents, friends and the “living dead” will be reunited in an emotional gathering. In a sense, it's a second chance for those who have experienced a degree of loss in a temporary, but still traumatic, setting.

Leishman said the Every 15 Minutes presentation at Clear Lake High is the result of eight months of planning. A 15-member committee guided the effort, which was assisted by 30 law enforcement officers and 20 fire personnel.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




A REACH air ambulance landed at Clear Lake High School's football field to transport one of the mock collision victims to Sutter Lakeside Hospital on Wednesday, April 15, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

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