By Lloyd Green Jr
Every 15 Minutes in the United States someone is killed or seriously injured in an alcohol related incident.
Tragedy unfolded in front of Williams High School on Thursday, May 3; two young individuals lost their lives, several injured and one, the intoxicated driver, in handcuffs and charged with driving under the influence.
Although the event was staged, it can be assured that the emotions were very, very real and that the hard facts and consequences of driving under the influence, are all too real.
The grisly mock accident scene was staged as part of the Every 15 minutes program, which aims to prevent drunk-driving fatalities. A reminder that there is no such thing as a second chance, emphasizing the minute an individual gets behind the wheel while drunk, high or distracted that they are no longer in control – and in just one second, their lives could change forever.
During Thursday morning classes, Williams High School Students were reminded on just how quickly lives can change. Preselected students were pulled out of classrooms – every 15 minutes by the ‘Grim Reaper’.
These students became members of the walking dead, claimed victim to an alcohol related automotive fatality. The student’s obituary was read aloud to the class as they left the classroom and a single flower was left on the desk, immortalizing the memory of that student.
Later that morning, the crash scene dramatization began where Emily Ferguson, a WHS Senior, and three of her friends: Tessa Mitchel, Jessi Coder, and Jennifer Rodriquez were returning back to school after cruising around town and having a few alcoholic beverages where suddenly, they impacted with another vehicle.
Korey Steinke was ending his morning of Driver Education with his Instructor, portrayed by CHP Officer Nick Helfrich, when Fergusons SUV broadsided the small sedan.
Ferguson emerged from the wreck, wandering and stumbling with beer bottle in hand, and blood streaming down her face as emergency personal arrived at the scene.
From the mangled vehicles injured passenger, Tessa Michel, cried out “I thought you said you were o.k. to drive. What have you done?”
Ferguson began to realize the result of her decision to drive while under the influence and events unfolded.
Although a drama recreation of an actual crash scene, emergency personnel treat the crash scene very seriously using the opportunity for training purposes – making the scene very realistic. Vehicle extraction tools, the Jaws-of-Life, were used to extract occupants.
As the victims were removed one-by-one, Ferguson was given a field sobriety test by Williams Police Officer, Sean Mattson and Officer Juan Ruiz – the officers determined Ferguson to be under the influence and placed her under arrest.
Emotions were high as the mock accident concluded, students were sent back to their classes; walking through a mock cemetery – the front lawn lined with tombstones marking those who lost their lives that day during event.
The all too real event played out to completion that included a funeral service the following day after the students involved in the event attended an overnight retreat at the Colusa Indian Community Center in Colusa.
During Friday’s simulated funeral service, several speakers shared stories of their experiences and consequences of driving drunk, or riding with a drunk driver.
The guest speaker for the event was Leonardo Velazquez of Arbuckle.
Velazquez was the driver of a suspected alcohol related crash that killed 19 year-old Jose L. Vera Mendoza on June 14, 2009 and plead guilty to the Vehicle Manslaughter while intoxicated charges.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house” said Williams School Board Member Andi Armstrong, “Velazquez gave a powerful speech that really impacted the students.”
Additionally, selected students and parents read their last letters to their loved ones. Student speakers included: Ben Mays, Juanita Hernandez, and Korey Steinke. Parent speakers included Brook Danley-Steinke, and Carol Michel.
The event was made possible through the collective efforts of: Williams Police Department, Williams California Highway Patrol, Williams Fire Department, Colusa County Sheriffs’ Department, Williams Unified School District, CHP Northern Division Air Ops, Enloe Ambulance Service, Selover’s, McNary-Moore Funeral Services, Colusa Regional Medical Center, Force 4 Digital, Colusa County Sheriffs’ Volunteers, Sutter Fire Department, Colusa County Ministerial Association, Charles Stalley ~ Williams High School Woodshop
Volunteers for the event were: Antonio Boites, Samantha Coombs, Angel Moreno, Corey Fugate, Neida Garcia, Marrisa Hort, Amanda Lopez, Ashlyn Covarrubias, Miguel Ocampo, Heriberto Ruiz, and Charles Stalley. The ‘Grim Reaper’ was portrayed by: Matt Percell of the Colusa County Sheriffs Department during the crash scene and Patrick Landreth, Mayor of the City of Colusa during the funeral assembly.
Core Committee members were: STO. John Waggoner California Highway Partol; Dr. Judith Rossi, Superintendent Williams U.S.D.; Andi Armstrong, Board Member Williams U.S.D.; Kathy Wheeler, Principal Williams High School; Rosa Meza Villaseñor, Asst. Principal Williams High School; Yvonne Thornton, Counselor Williams High School; Josh Rowe, Teacher Williams High School; Officer Ivan Maldonado, Youth Outreach, Williams Police Department; and Jeff Gilbert, Fire Chief Williams Fire Department.
Students participating in the project were: Aaron Asbury, David Barajas, Antonio Camberos, Roberto Cazares, Jessi Coder, Emily Ferguson, Juanita Hernandez, Katie Jorge, Kamalpreet Kaur, Erik Knight, Cesar Loza, Kayla MacKaben, Ben Mayes, Elizabeth Mendez, Tessa Michel, Pedro Moran, Ashlee Povlsen, Jennifer Rodriguez, Max Santos, Korey Steinke, Mario Valencia, Lupe Zuniga and one teacher: Josh Rowe.
Armstrong said the program took several months to prepare and believes it was well received by the students and the community.
The program is named for the statistic that someone dies in an alcohol-related accident every 15 minutes during its creation back in 1995 and is presented in hopes that our teens will reflect upon their decisions to drink and drive or to get into a car with someone who has been drinking.
The rates of alcohol-related fatalities have gradually declined and at the end of 2007, it is reported that one death occurred every 40.4 minutes. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010 more than 10,000 people died in alcohol-impaired crashes. That is one death every 51 minutes.■