Monday, 20 May 2024

Every 15 Minutes: A lesson in second chances, making good choices

A graveyard depicting the names of students who took part in this year's Every 15 Minutes program was set up on the lawn outside of the Clear Lake High School administrative offices on Thursday, April 16, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



LAKEPORT – A Thursday morning assembly brought an emotional lesson in choices to an end for Clear Lake High School students and parents.

Day two of the school's Every 15 Minutes program concluded Thursday with a mock funeral to commemorate two dozen students who participated as casualties in this year's program.

High school students had watched the previous day as 21 of their classmates were whisked out of class by the grim reaper, with police and Every 15 Minutes student coordinators reading fictional obituaries.

Then, just before lunchtime, they watched as four students were involved in a staged collision behind the school, with three of the students becoming fatalities and the fourth being arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. One student watching the reenactment fainted.

If the presentation is grim, it's one that's carrying an important message that young people are hearing, because officials reported that now, instead of a young person dying every 15 minutes from an alcohol-related collision or incident, deaths now occur about every 32 minutes.

Seniors Alexandra Wiggs, 17, and Martin Diaz, 18, chose to do the Every 15 Minutes program as their senior project in an effort to help – and to warn – as many people as possible about the dangers of alcohol and drug use.




Bagpiper Duayne Emis, a deputy with the Lake County Sheriff's Office, led the mock funeral procession into the Clear Lake High School gym on Thursday, April 16, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



“This can happen to anyone,” Diaz told the gym filled with students, parents, teachers and law enforcement. “You don't realize what you had until you lost it.”

Nearby was a casket that had been brought by Chapel of the Lakes Mortuary in a horse-drawn hearse, to represent lost lives.

Wiggs said her brother took part in the program four years ago when it last visited the school, and it had a powerful impact on her family.

She said the student participants in this year's program – who stayed overnight together at the National Guard armory – bonded in what was an emotional experience.

Participating parents and students also wrote each other emotional letters, confronting the nightmare of losing each other.

A tearful Tammi Silva described in a letter to her son, Daniel, how she was pulled by a coworker into a meeting on Wednesday with law enforcement officers who came to deliver the teen's death notice. Even though she had agreed to take part and thought she was ready, she said the staged notification caught her unprepared.

“In a flash, I thought of the things I was unable to say to you,” she said, reading her letter.

“Do you know how much I love you?” She asked her son.

She added, “This is the nightmare that haunts parents.”

While it was a traumatic time, Silva said there also was joy in knowing her son is truly alive after the exercise is over.

“Live it, learn from it, share the message,” she told him, adding that the situation was an “intensely real” one for all of the parents.

A video of high school activities, students and the crash reenactment figured prominently in the presentation. It followed the crash scene victims to the hospitals and then to the morgues, where parents went through the exercise of body identifications. The student arrested for DUI also was followed through the booking process.




Law enforcement and mortuary officials led an empty casket into the Every 15 Minutes program at Clear Lake High School on Thursday, April 16, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.




In her letter to parents, student Alissa Iaccino said she was sorry for the fights she'd had with them. She told them, “I couldn't ask for better parents.”

California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia explained that, in a close knit community like this one, tragedies like the one staged Wednesday affect everyone.

He urged students not to roll the dice with their lives or the lives of others. The impact on families of such choices can't be measured.

“Don't waste this second chance,” he said. “It could be your last.”

Sheriff Rod Mitchell thanked parents for their courage in taking part, and thanked students for being willing to show their vulnerability by participating.

The entire effort, he said, constitutes a large commitment of local agencies and the school district, which he said clearly loved its students to put on the program.

As veteran law enforcement officer who has witnessed many tragic scenes where lives have been lost, Mitchell shared the agony he's seen people experience.

“The program is what happens today, the process is what happens next,” he said, explaining that young and old alike need to keep the promise to make the right choices.

Clear Lake High Principal Steve Gentry said they can see the result of DUI crashes every day, referring to a young professional baseball pitcher who was killed by a drunk driver, and a fatal boat crash in Florida that involved some former Clear Lake High students. He also recounted a fatal DUI crash that claimed the lives of three promising Lower Lake High students 20 years ago.

Lakeport Police Chief Kevin Burke congratulated students and parents for taking part.

“We really try hard to make this program real,” he said.

Burke recounted the death of a college classmate, killed in a drunk driving crash. “The real thing is much, much worse,” he said, adding that he hopes the program will keep young people and their families from experiencing a real tragedy, because that nightmare never ends.

Burke offered a simple message – the choices people make in the future will either save lives or take them. Good choices involve not getting behind the wheel of a vehicle if you've been using alcohol or drugs, and not letting anyone under the influence drive either. He ended by thanking them for their future good choices.

Lakeport Police Officer Jarvis Leishman, one of the event's coordinators, also emphasized, “Choices change lives.”

He said the community worked together through the Every 15 Minutes program to give its young people second chances, and hoped as a result that the community will be a smart, safer place.

When the assembly ended, it was time for tearful reunions for those students, their parents and families who had been part of the program.

Burke said afterward this was the first time he had seen Every 15 Minutes firsthand.

“It's an extraordinary program,” he said. “I have no doubt it makes an impact.”

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



Students and parents who had been separated due to participation in the program were reunited after the assembly on Thursday, April 16, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

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