Every 15 Minutes teaches teens through tragedy | April 22, 2011 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |


Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - April 22, 2011

Every 15 Minutes teaches teens through tragedy

Students and parents simulate agony of DUI deaths

by Glenn Wohltmann

The sights and sounds of Every 15 Minutes are pretty much the same as any auto accident: two cars crushed by the impact, the sound of someone sobbing, the sight of blood, the wail of police sirens.

For 10 years now, the program has been walking teens through every aspect of an accident, from the first moments after impact to the devastation that follows. Police, firefighters and rescue personnel all respond as they would to any other crash. Teens are loaded into ambulances, or handcuffed and put in the rear of a police car. In some cases, they're zipped inside body bags and loaded into the coroner's van.

Parents are brought to the hospital or a funeral home to deal with the death of their child. The teen arrested for drinking and driving is locked inside a cell.

If the crowd at last week's Every 15 Minutes near Amador Valley High is any indication, the program has an impact. Some teens wept openly, while others sat in silence and watched the scene unfold.

Every 15 Minutes was named for the frequency of fatal alcohol- or drug-related crashes. It might be argued that there's little lasting impact: Teens feel immortal, after all, and half of those who watch the reenactment and next day's assembly are headed off to college in the fall, where drinking is often part of the culture.

But 16-year-old Jenae Poffenbarger, an Amador junior and member of the organizing committee, thinks the two-day event left a lasting impression.

"The reactions of the students and the emotions were so obvious," Poffenbarger said. "The impact it had on so many students -- I'm confident it will change their behavior."

Sitting through the program last year was a tipping point in the life of 18-year-old Sabrina Soracco, who recently graduated from Village High.

"It really changed my life, to actually go through it as if I'd passed away and my family wasn't there," Soracco said. "They took away our cell phones. We had to write goodbye letters to our friends and family."

Soracco thanked one man who talked about buying a white coffin for his daughter, the victim of a fatal crash, because he'd never be able to buy her a white wedding dress.

"I'll always remember it because it made an impact between me and my dad," Soracco said. "After his speech I called my dad and tried to make a better relationship with him."

Soracco's mother, Teresa Carns, said Every 15 Minutes marked a turning point in her daughter's life.

"I think Sabrina's weekend fun changed quite a bit because she became extremely responsible after that event, not for herself but for her friends as well," Carns said. "It wasn't just with her extracurricular activities but with her schoolwork, too. It was a huge turning point, from child teen to adult teen."

"It had an impact on both of us," she continued. "The hardest part was writing her obituary. It was mandatory and I did not turn it in until the day of the event. I had to fax it -- I didn't want to do it, I cried through the whole thing."

Soracco described drinking as a "big problem" in school, adding, "This program, it really helps teenagers understand the outcome of it."

Carns agreed.

"You have to remember, when you're a teen, you think, 'I'm going to party, I'm going to go dance and have fun.' You don't even think about your consequences. Now she does," Carns said. "Young adults don't grow overnight. They grow through experience. The only thing we can do is try to set the foundation for that experience."

Perhaps programs like Every 15 Minutes do work. In the time since its inception, the statistic has gone from every 15 minutes to about every 30 minutes, Pleasanton police Officer Marty Billdt said during the assembly that followed the crash reenactment.