For 23 years, students in the Santa Clarita Valley have participated in “Every 15 Minutes,” a program that educates local high school juniors and seniors on the dangers of drunk and distracted driving.
Thursday served as the first of a two-day simulation at West Ranch High School, and began with a student dressed as the grim reaper visiting classrooms to pull out the 17 students who would serve as the event’s “walking dead.”
The group could have no contact with their families and peers for 24 hours as they served as a reminder for how drunken driving can affect peer and family groups, California Highway Patrol Officer Josh Greengard said.
At 11:10 a.m., an emergency call played over the school’s communication system, which prompted nearly 1,200 upperclassman to exit their classrooms and head up to Valencia Boulevard, where they’d watch a simulated crash scene unfold in front of them.
With the grim reaper strolling in the background and the “walking dead” standing at the front of the crowd, students huddled around a mock crash scene that featured bloodied bodies thrown through a windshield and many other grisly images often found at the scene of a DUI crash.
As Greengard read a narrative that explained what was happening, squad cars, ambulances and fire trucks raced up to the scene with their sirens screaming.
First responders would immediately begin the emergency response and procedures they’d attempt at the site of an actual collision on the roadway.
With the assistance of hydraulic shears, Los Angeles County firefighters would extract the students from the two cars while a Santa Clarita Valley sheriff’s deputy conducted a field sobriety test on the student playing the role of the driver.
The driver, who was wearing drunk goggles to simulate the effects of being drunk, was handcuffed and loaded into a squad car to be taken to the station.
He will be booked and spend some time in a cell before heading to be sentenced by his peers in “court,” Greengard said, as first responders rushed to load the six “victims who died” in the crash into ambulances and coroner vehicles that would speed away to their respective locations.
“It’s emotional,” West Ranch Principal Mark Crawford said, because families have to visit their child at the hospital, the driver is in jail and the students and parents have to go a whole day without contacting, conversing or interacting with the 23 victims.
The simulation will end on Friday after all of the dead return to life at an assembly, which will feature two speakers who have had personal experiences with the tragedies that can result from drunken driving.
The whole goal of the entire program is to help kids make better decisions, Crawford said.