In a quiet Santa Clarita courtroom, Commissioner Jeffrey Harkavy called a vehicular manslaughter case to order as students and parents from Saugus High School looked on.
“You have the ability and the freedom to make choices… and with all of our choices come consequences,” Harkavy said. “This incident was not an accident, this collision was a culmination of a series of choices by you.”
The drunken driving case was a reenactment, part of the school’s biennial “Every 15 Minutes” program, but for those involved, it all felt like reality.
“Even though you know the whole time is not real, no part of today felt like it wasn’t real,” said Debbie Hollers, who gave a victim impact statement during the courtroom’s proceedings about the loss of her daughter, Madison, during the program’s crash simulation scene.
This is the goal of the program: to teach students and the community about the dangers and consequences of reckless driving, speed contests, distracted driving and driving under the influence.
“This program is aptly named every 15 minutes because collisions and deaths of this type occur multiple times every hour, 24 hours, every day throughout this country. The absolute insanity of it is that it is 100 percent preventable,” Harkavy said. “I am very grateful to be able to participate in a number of educational programs for students… I think this is, perhaps, the most valuable one.”
Throughout the two-day program, Saugus High School students complete dramatizations where they are removed from class every 15 minutes by the Grim Reaper, participate in a mock car crash in front of the school’s campus, are taken to the hospital and to jail, appear in court and hear stories at the Central Park Youth Grove.
Presented by several different agencies—including the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles County Fire Department, the California Highway Patrol and the city of Santa Clarita—the program aims to be as realistic as possible for those involved.
In the courtroom proceedings, the student defendant, Logan Reilly, pleaded guilty to two felony charges for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated before the prosecution and defense shared their statements.
“The court has an option between low-term which is four years, mid-term which is six year and high-term which is 10 years,” Deputy District Attorney Natalie Weingrow said during the courtroom reenactment. “The people would be asking for the max on this case would be 10 years on count one and two years on count two for a total of 12 years.”
The defense asked for probation, citing the clean record, age and safety of the defendant, but Reilly was ultimately charged with a mid-term sentence, or eight years in state prison for both counts.
Harkavy and others involved in the program hope it makes an impact on the lives of students who witnessed the courtroom scene firsthand.
“I sit in the San Fernando Superior Court and I hear felony cases. I have one of these cases [vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated] on my calendar for this afternoon,” Harkavy said. “We hope this day, this moment will be a lesson that will stay with you and will be one that you share with your friends and family.”
Students who volunteered for the program as members of the “Living Dead” also hope it makes a difference for their classmates and friends
“I wanted to make an impact and to hopefully influence kids to not drink and drive because it’s really stupid,” Saugus High School senior Dave Li said.
The same was true for senior Eric Aubrey who volunteered for the program after watching his brother participate in it years ago.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to show the rest of the school how drunk driving can affect your friend groups and the overall society,” he said.
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_