Just a few weeks ahead of prom, Santa Fe High School seniors witnessed a gruesome car crash in front of the campus in which one of their peers died, one was airlifted to a local hospital with life-threatening injuries and another was arrested for drunk driving. Students, families and loved ones gathered to mourn the losses and pray for the injured during a funeral service the next day.
The sobering event was all part of an Every 15 Minutes simulation program meant to inspire teens to think twice about driving under the influence.
“Even though this two-day event is staged and our student participants are rehearsed, it still leaves a powerful impression on our upperclassmen, who are on the verge of reaching important milestones – prom and graduation,” Principal Craig Campbell said. “We want them to celebrate safely and keep in mind all of the hard work they have put into their education and the future that awaits them.”
The senior class gathered in front of the campus on April 5 to watch the simulated drunk-driving scenario. It began with multiple 911 calls blaring over a sound system, callers describing the collision and triggering an emergency response by law enforcement agencies, firefighters and paramedics.
The staged crash involved critically wounded students who were transported via ambulance, including one who was extricated by the Jaws of Life and later died. A fatally wounded student was taken away by a coroner; the driver, who failed a field sobriety test, was handcuffed and taken into custody.
Throughout the day, a Grim Reaper pulled students from classes every 15 minutes, representing the number of lives lost in an alcohol-related collision. The Grim Reaper and “living dead” students – complete with white face make-up, coroner’s tag and a black Every 15 Minutes T-shirt – watched the crash scene unfold.
Participants did not return to their classes or homes. Instead, they took part in an overnight retreat without contact with family and friends. During the retreat, students wrote letters to their loved ones.
A mock funeral was held the following day, evoking tears from onlooking students as participants reunited with friends and families. A video of the previous day’s events was also played, showing the aftermath of the accident, including police notifying parents that their children had died and the sentencing of the student driver in court.
Student Alicia Chavez, who was one of the “living dead” students, read her letter to her parents.
“If I had one last chance to be alive, I would hug you both and tell you how much I appreciate all the hard work and things you do for me,” Chavez said. “I didn’t think I would go this soon. You’ll never get to see me walk down the aisle, graduate, go to prom or have kids. I wish things could have been different and I could see you one last time.”
Students also heard from Chelsie Hill, a passionate dancer who was paralyzed from the waist down at 17 years old after getting into a car with a drunk driver.
The program is a collaborative effort between Santa Fe High School and the cities of Santa Fe Springs and Whittier, the California Highway Patrol, Los Angeles County and Santa Fe Springs fire departments and Whittier Police Department.
To see the video of the event, visit https://vimeo.com/212674554.