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Every 15 Minutes: Driving home the message

Realistic re-enactments offer sobering look at DUI incidents among youth

Student actor Evan Thomas holds Maddie Hildebrand during the aftermath of the mock crash featured during the Every 15 Minutes anti-DUI program at Amador Valley High School last week. Surabhi Kumar can be seen trapped in the wreckage. (Photo by Ryan J. Degan)

Panicking students, police sirens, confusion, pandemonium.

This was the scene set at Amador Valley High School last week, when student actors participated in the Every 15 Minutes anti-DUI program.

"I think what we are doing here is really important because a lot of people know the statistics of drinking and driving but they don't know the actual repercussions and the emotions that they would feel. So hopefully we instill those feelings in them to make them think twice before getting behind the wheel under the influence," said Catherine Murphy, a junior at Amador and member of the school's student-led Every 15 Minutes Committee.

Every 15 Minutes is an anti-DUI program that consists of a realistically simulated car crash, where student actors and volunteer first responders re-enact the aftermath of a fatal collision resulting from a student driving while intoxicated, with the school's senior and junior class present to witness the event.

It is held at high school campuses throughout California and derives its name from the frequency someone in the United States was killed in an alcohol- or drug-related collision, at the time the program was founded.

Created in partnership with the California Highway Patrol, Pleasanton Police Department and the Pleasanton Unified School District, the program is meant to depict the catastrophic consequences that can arise when someone makes the choice to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, with a particular focus on curtailing DUI rates among young people.

"It's never OK to drink and drive. And even if you say like 'oh it's a quick drive,' it's never ever worth it," said Amador senior Maddie Hildebrand, one of the student actors in the program. "I just hope that everybody can take this day and realize the impact (driving under the influence) has on the whole community, even for the people not involved. It's tragic for their family. It's tragic for the victims. It hurts everybody."

During the crash re-enactment, held on Feb. 28, Amador juniors and seniors gathered on Del Valle Parkway adjacent to the high school, to witness the aftermath of the collision.

At the scene, an intoxicated teen, portrayed by Bella Huyler, had just crashed into her friend's car while driving away from a party -- a collision that would have resulted in three deaths, a prison sentence and countless lifelong traumas.

"I hope everyone that watches takes something away and realizes that it's not OK to drink and drive or be under the influence in general," said senior Jordan Uraquhart, who played a student who became paralyzed for life as a result of the crash. "I feel like if we can save at least one person then that person can also help somebody else. And that's the general idea of this program, to save people and to influence other people as well."

The mock crash was followed by an assembly the next day, where students viewed a video documenting what transpired before and after the collision. They also heard from guest speaker Wendy Reynolds, an attorney and public speaker whose family was killed by a drunk driver when she was a child.

"I am standing here today pleading with you: Do not be the next person who kills someone. I had a family, I had a little sister and a mom and a dad, and then all of a sudden just like that I didn't. I was an orphan because someone chose to drink and smoke weed and drive a car," she told the students in Amador's gymnasium March 1.

Every 15 Minutes does not just consist of the mock crash and assembly, as during the week approximately 30 students were pulled from class to represent the "living dead" -- students who have been killed as a result of intoxicated or distracted driving.

When it came to casting the student actors and living dead, program organizers stressed the importance of creating a diverse cast, in order to reach as broad a group as possible, and not just in terms of ethnicity and gender.

"We worked for a really long time to get the perfect mix of people to hit every friend group, every single club sport, whatever, so that every single person in that audience will be touched by this program," Murphy said.

This is the crux of the program, according to Murphy. Every 15 Minutes aims to not only affect the students participating in the mock crash, but also their parents and friends, and their parents and friends and so on.

For the past 18 years, the program has been presented in alternating years at either Amador or Foothill high schools -- with students from Village High School attending Foothill's program. It is funded by the Office of Traffic Safety with the assistance of the California Highway Patrol.

According to PPD Officer Nick Schwarz, first responders participating in the scene took their jobs seriously and treated the mock crash as they would the real thing.

"The primary theme behind Every 15 Minutes is about you. You making decisions that will affect yourselves in a positive way," Schwarz said to students during the assembly, adding that while the rate of DUI-related deaths has improved both nationally and locally, there is still a lot of work to do.

"The frequency of these deaths has been reduced down to about every 54 minutes, however the reduction in fatalities seem to be contributed to the education programs like (Every 15 Minutes). Even though those fatalities have decreased even a single preventable death is unacceptable," Schwarz said.

Over the past several years, the total amount of DUIs reported in Pleasanton have been steadily dropping. 2017 marked a 10-year low for DUIs, according to PPD's annual reports that document statistics between 2007 and 2017.

According to PPD's 2017 annual report, officers reported 109 DUI cases, only one of which was for a juvenile. The 10-year high point was in 2010, where the city saw 329 DUI cases.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that as in 2017, 83,007 people called Pleasanton home, which makes a ratio of 1.31 DUI cases per 1,000 residents for that year. That is significantly lower than the state average, which saw 5.46 DUI arrests for every 1,000 residents in 2015 (the most recent year with data available), according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

First responders participating in Every 15 Minutes were quick to stress that DUI does not strictly refer to drinking and driving. In addition to alcohol, driving while under the influence of drugs -- or even distractions, like texting -- can lead to catastrophic results.

"Driving under the influence can mean anything, whether it's alcohol, prescription medication, marijuana, other drugs ... Whether you drink alcohol or you put other stuff in your body, it's going to have an effect on your brain and that's going to have an effect on your perception and reaction times," CHP Officer Tyler Hahn said.

The figures may be improving, but the feeling of losing a loved one due to intoxicated driving is one Every 15 Minutes organizers throughout the state are working to extinguish. Anti-DUI advocates like Reynolds want people to know that driving drunk just isn't worth it, and waiting for a sober ride is better than risking ruining lives.

"I have two guarantees for you today. First guarantee: Your parents would rather get a call from you, than a call from the police or the hospital," Reynolds told the Amador students. "Second guarantee: Your parents would rather come and get you at anytime of the day or night than get that knock on the door ... that they will have to go to the hospital or morgue."

Editor's note: The production was videorecorded by the Dublin High School video production program and can be viewed on YouTube at https://bit.ly/2SHnZmP. Viewers are warned that the video contains realistic and graphic imagery of a car crash and the violent and tragic aftermath.

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Comments

7 people like this
Posted by Mad Mom
a resident of Avignon
on Mar 8, 2019 at 11:41 am

I wish all parents of teens were required to attend this type of event also. Maybe then those parents that choose to allow their teens to drink and also host drinking teens at their homes might think twice about their decisions. I had numerous parents of my daughters' friends tell me that there would be no drinking or drug use when my daughter was at their home. They LIED!!! My daughter (now a 30 yr. old adult) now understands why we chose to be PARENTS when she was a teen and now we can be FRIENDS!

Be a responsible parent and set a good example for your children.


Like this comment
Posted by Kris
a resident of Apperson Ridge
on Mar 9, 2019 at 11:35 pm

Mad Mom. So I agree with you...For sure...However, and I am not saying you are, but Parent shaming can go too far. What I mean is that so many parents, so many raise their children right...All the right lessons, all the important tools given their children..But children/young adults can turn "left" so often in life, after the best of parenting....I know. :(


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