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Students get a wake-up call

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By Maria Jaleh McTeigue

At 11:05 a.m. Wednesday, a simulated traffic collision was made viewable on Los Alamos High School grounds.
Rescue workers treated “injured” student participants. These students experienced first hand, the feelings of being involved in an alcohol-related, texting-while-driving collision. A coroner handled “fatalities” on the scene, while Los Alamos County firefighters, paramedics and police officers helped student actors, who were made up to look like crash victims, complete with fake blood and wounds. LAPD officers investigated and arrested the student “drunk driver.”
Injured participants continued their experience by taking a trip to either the morgue, the hospital emergency room or to the county jail for the purpose of being booked for “drunk driving.”
Simultaneously, as part of the event, every 15 minutes, “Death” took a student out class. The student returned five minutes later, made up to look like a ghost.
From that point on, “victims” were not permitted to speak or interact with other students for the remainder of the school day. Uniformed officers made a mock death notification to the class.
This theatrical spectacle was done in conjunction with the Every 15 Minutes program, run by a national nonprofit enlisting government resources, for the purpose of driving home the message of non-intoxicated, safe driving.
The event included the involvement and participation of the Los Alamos Police and Fire departments, high school staff, the Los Alamos Medical Center, community officials, the district attorney’s office and DeVargas Funeral Home.
The program continued into the next day, when nearly 24 hours later, students were called to attend a “memorial service” to honor the “dead” students. During the service, a representative of the  “Every 15 Minutes” program said, “Life’s lessons are best learned through experience. Unfortunately, when the target audience is teens and the topic is drinking and texting while driving, experience is not the teacher of choice.”
The assembly included speeches from the students involved in the project, their parents, community members, police officers, chaplains from surrounding communities and parents living in Los Alamos, who lost their 16-year-old daughter to a collision caused by a drunk driver. During the memorial service, the “drunk driver,” Ben Schilling, spoke about the emotional experience.
I felt the harshness in the judge’s voice as she spoke sentence. I realized at that time, that if this was really a crash, I would be guilty of homicide and in prison until the age of 42,” he said. “Not only that, but everyone, family, community, everyone, would suffer because of the death of the students. ”
Although the purpose of the enactment was supposed to be to teach students about the dangers of drunk driving, many students disagreed with the amount of money that was spent to put it together.
Peter McAninch, a freshman at Los Alamos High School said, “One of the speakers mentioned that the helicopter alone was nearly $17,000. I feel like the money could’ve been used to alert the public as a whole and raise awareness, without having a scandalous production, that in the end, isn’t real.”
McAninch continued, “I realize that these are huge problems to be addressed, but I noticed that although the problem was the main focus, there was very little attention brought to possible solutions.”
Other high school students worry that the effect might end up being something other than what was intended. While nearly all students were skeptical of the theatrical presentation, many were concerned about the emotions of the passersby who gathered on the campus after hearing sirens. Nicole Graham, a sophomore who attended the production, felt sadness for those who believed that the event was real.
She spoke about a small group of workers who came to the scene of the crash, saying, “What if the people across the street don’t know what’s happening? Imagine how they’re feeling. How devastating and horrifying.”
Teens also reported feeling “creeped out” or “scared” by the Grim Reaper, who was allowed to wander the campus wearing zombie-style makeup and carrying a scythe. Yet others were disturbed that the administration put so much time, money and effort into a staged accident that caused grief among students.
The website for the Every 15 Minutes program states, “The crash is staged, but the emotions are real!” However, some students felt it was too real and were offended.
Despite students’ feelings, it seems that perhaps the financial investment was worth it, if at least one life is saved.
The emotional grief felt by many students seemed necessary to drive home importance of not drinking or texting while driving.
It would seem that further focus needs to be placed on drinking and driving amongst the teen population. “Teens shouldn’t be drinking at all — it’s illegal.
The focus of the program was stopping students from driving intoxicated, but fact remains that underage drinking is illegal.
The program put no emphasis on abstaining from drinking alcohol, but rather on avoiding the possible repercussions of a student choosing to drive while drunk,” an LAHS student said.
Even if students don’t approve of the program,  one thing is certain: “No message is worth your life.”