A Colusa High School senior is seeking to make an impact on his fellow peers with his senior project this year. Jamie Mendez took on the daunting task of assembling the Every 15 Minutes program for his school in hopes to make his classmates think twice before drinking and driving.
“I wanted to leave something behind that would impact our student body,” said Mendez, “I hope it would address the issue with drinking and driving within our school.”
Near the intersection of Colus Ave and 8th Street in front of the high school, an accident scene was staged that began a two-day dramatized program designed to instill teenagers of the consequences with driving impaired.
With the crash scene staged, the student body were escorted outside the following scenario:
At approximately 10:45 a.m. on Thursday, March 20th, 2014, the Colusa City Fire Department was dispatched to a report of a vehicle accident involving students in front of the High School.
Colusa High School teacher, Bob Kirkman IV, Was driving westbound on Colusa Ave, when the pickup carrying four high school students collided head-on Kirkman’s vehicle.
Those students were leaving the school after drinking alcohol during their lunch break.
As the smoke cleared, and emergency personnel arrived on the scene, Estvan Frias, the driver of the pickup, stumbled out of the vehicle.
Officer Kyle Brown, of the Colusa City Police department issued a field sobriety test and determined that Frias, was under the influence and was arrested. Meanwhile, the Colusa City Fire Department worked to extract the passengers in the truck using the Jaws of Life.
Passengers Valeria Dominguez and Katie Dudman suffered severe injuries and were taken by air ambulance; while Jarod Huff suffered minor injuries and was transported by ambulance.
In the meantime, a grim display of Colusa High School’s beloved social science teacher, Bob Kirkman IV, was pronounced dead at the scene. A sheet covering his lifeless body, as fake blood covered his head and dripped down the vehicle.
Kirkman was extracted out of the vehicle and placed into a body bag, with the grim reaper standing guard. As Kirkman was escorted away, the grim reaper and the walking dead followed, exiting the scene.
Emotions were high as the mock accident concluded; students were sent back to their classes; a mock cemetery was erected in the high school’s breezeway, crosses lining the grass, marking those who lost their lives that day during the event.
Earlier in the day, several students were pulled from their classrooms, escorted by the grim reaper as the student’s obituary was read. These students were to be known as the ‘walking dead’; with their faces painted white, they stood at the crash scene in ere silence.
The ‘walking dead’ included: Ryan Abele, Graeson Bell, Grace Boeger, Cesar Buenrostro, Lucas Davison, Gavin Gerrard, Elas Gomez, Garrett Hamilton, Haley Lyss, Iriana Mendoza, Denise Munoz, Alexia ‘Lexi’ Ramos, Jasmine Savage, Alissa Selover, Molly Townzen, and Bertram ‘BJ’ Windsor.
Parents of the participants in the program also partook in a gruesome emotional part of the program.
As the parents sit at home, or go about their day at their jobs – they often wonder where their children are and never expect the dreaded ‘knock’ on the door.
Amy Gerard, the mother to Gavin Gerrard was one of those parents.
“My initial thoughts were, NO!” said Gerrard, when her son approached his mother about participating in the event, “but it was what he wanted to do, so I agreed.”
When parents are greeted by a Police Officer and Chaplin, the one sentence changes their lives forever: “I hate and regret to inform you that your son/daughter has been killed by a drunk driver.” The mothers fall on the floor; uncontrollable, deep, heart-broken, unable to control themselves, while fathers try their very best.
“It was very difficult,” said Gerrard, “the Chaplin wanted me to go into Gavin’s room and pick out some clothes and I couldn’t do it.”
“I think it is a great program,” said Gerrard, “It touches the kids, and they get to see the reality of drinking and driving. Not only does it touches the kids and parents, but everyone in the community.”
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.
Gerard’s son was selected to read a letter he had written to his family at the mock funeral. With emotions high, in an all-to-too-real scenario, Gavin was almost unable to finish his letter – his classmates giving him support.
Also during the simulated funeral service, many speakers shared stories of their experiences and consequences of driving drunk, or riding with a drunk driver.
The event was made possible through the collective efforts of the California Highway Patrol, Colusa City Police Department, Colusa City Fire Department, and Colusa Regional Medical Center, Enloe Medical Transport, McNary-Moore Funeral Service and many community members and staff at the Colusa Unified School District.
“We have a fantastic community,” said Colusa High School Principal, Darren Brown, “It takes a lot of time and effort and we are extremely proud of the community, and thankful for what we have.”
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 since the first Every 15 Minutes program begun nationwide.
In 2012, more than 10,000 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, which is one death every 51 minutes. Alcohol-impaired motor vehicle crashes cost more than an estimated $37 billion annually.
Funding for the Every 15 Minutes program is made possible through a specialized grant with the California Office of Traffic Safety.
On April 2nd, 2014 Maxwell High School will participate in the California Highway Patrol’s Every 15 Minutes Program. This article will appear in the next edition of the Williams Pioneer Review on April 18, 2014.