Every 15 minutes: Mock crash seeks to alert students to DWI dangers

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By Carol A. Clark

Underage drinking was addressed head-on this morning in front of Los Alamos High School. In anticipation of prom night and graduation, LAHS Student Council in conjunction with the Los Alamos County DWI Program, conducted the nationally recognized Every 15 Minutes program with a staged crash scene.

“I’ve seen a lot of scenarios like this that were real – especially around prom,” said Lt. Steve Branch, who’s been with the Los Alamos Fire Department for 21 years. “Death is sad and it affects the young and everyone around them.”

LAHS Principal Grace Brown watched the scene with a somber face.

“The immediate effect is to have students stop and think about drinking and driving, and the consequences of doing that with prom coming up Saturday – and graduation after that,” she said. “Those are the times kids tend to get careless.”

Statistics indicate that every 15 minutes someone in the United States is killed in an alcohol-related crash, said Coordinator David Sims of the County DWI Program. Nationally, almost 40 percent of fatal alcohol-related crashes involve teenagers, he said.

Just before students began arriving at school this morning, the mock crash was staged with student “victims” Shaun Parkinson, 16; and Adrian Figg, 16; and “drunk driver” Natasha Roberts, 17.

In the staged scenario, police and firefighters rushed to the scene and assessed the victims, placed a blanket over Parkinson’s face and hooked Figg up to oxygen, placed him in an ambulance that rushed him toward the hospital.

The “drunk driver” was given a field sobriety test, arrested and led away by police in handcuffs.

“The Every 15 Minutes program offers real-life experience without the real-life risks,” Sims said. “It’s an emotionally charged event designed to dramatically instill teenagers with the potentially dangerous consequences of drinking alcohol, or riding in a car with someone who has been drinking. The program challenges students to think about underage drinking, personal safety, and the responsibility of making mature decisions when lives are involved.”

Los Alamos Police Ofc. Sheldon Simpson and Cpl. Bryant Cox are hoping this morning’s event saves lives in the future.

“The thing I hope this accomplishes is that kids will take notice before this happens for real,” Simpson said.

Bryant, a member of the LAPD Crash Team, added,“If kids drink and drive – this could one day happen.”

LAPD Cpl. Edward Chavez is the School Resource Officer for the high school. “It’s important to raise awareness about the dangers of drunk driving,” he said. “This same program has been conducted at high schools in Española, Chama and Tia Amarillo during the last two weeks. I’ve participated in this event in Santa Fe in the past and I’ve seen the positive impact it has on kids and on the community.”

Española Police Administrative Officer Jeff Martinez and State Police Sgt. Omar Sanchez assisted with this morning’s local exercise.

“I support everything going on with the fight against DWI and anything that can help make kids more aware of the dangers of DWI,” Sanchez said.

Throughout the rest of today’s classes at the high school, the “Grim Reaper” and a police officer were to call one student, selected from a cross-section of the student body, out of class every 15 minutes.

A police officer was to enter the classroom to read a notification of the student’s “death.” For the rest of the day, the student would attend classes as the “living dead,” complete with white face make-up and a black “Every 15 Minutes” T-shirt. The “victims” did not speak or interact with other students for the remainder of the school day. An assembly was to be held at the end of the day in which some of the students who had been “killed,” along with their parents, would speak about the consequences that could result from underage drinking on prom night.

LAHS nurse Lee Bussolini, whose son was seriously injured in an alcohol-related crash, shared her real-life experience as a parent dealing with the tragic death of a child.

“The objective of ‘Every 15 Minutes’ is that the simulated events will help eliminate the need for any student, parent or family to experience any real, devastating, alcohol-related tragedy during the prom and graduation season at LAHS,” Sims said.