Riverbank High School (RHS) juniors and seniors and staff experienced the impact of a devastating drunk driving accident from a staged crash and organized funeral in the school’s version of “Every 15 Minutes” on May 1 and 2.
According to the www.every15minutes.com website, “the Every 15 Minutes Program offers real-life experience without the real-life risks. This emotionally charged program, entitled Every 15 Minutes, is an event designed to dramatically instill teenagers with the potentially dangerous consequences of drinking alcohol and texting while driving. This powerful program will challenge students to think about drinking, texting while driving, personal safety, and the responsibility of making mature decisions when lives are involved.”
The last time this event was held at RHS was in the spring of 2000. Current RHS Principal Diana Jimenez was part of the organizing committee at her previous high school and had experienced several of the Every 15 Minute events; she thought it would be a great idea to bring it back to RHS.
“I knew it was very powerful and that students would have a very positive experience with the program,” said Jimenez.
Jimenez explained that they formed a committee to help organize the event and to evenly distribute the work load. The preparation for the event took six months and included several students, teachers, parents, counselors, a psychologist, classified personnel, and the director of human resources, Assistant Principal Rebecca Evans, Principal Jimenez and several other agencies.
“We had tremendous support from teachers, parents, and district office personnel,” said Jimenez.
The crash scene was set up in the stadium in front of the bleachers at 6:30 a.m. Thursday, May 1.The scene was very elaborate with a head on collision staged with Tristin Rodgers and Emily Blevins in a white two door truck and Edward Guardado and Vanessa Ramos in a green convertible.
Around 9:15 a.m. the juniors and seniors started filling in the bleachers looking at the crash scene on the dirt in front of them with bewilderment.
Then the 911 call was played for all to hear to bring everyone together and to watch the events unfold.
The walking dead with the grim reaper in the lead approached the scene of the crash with their black clothing and painted faces, students that were tapped out of class earlier in the day to signify how often a person is killed or injured in a drunk driving crash.
The Riverbank Police Services arrived on scene, assessed the situation and jumped into action. Deputy Gary Vernon took the drunk driver played by Rodgers to the side and began to ask questions.
The Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District arrived next and started the extrication of Guardado and Ramos from the green convertible.
The paramedics were on scene as well and placed the two students in the ambulance.
Finally, Blevins who was bloody, hanging partially outside the truck was removed and declared ‘dead’ at the scene. She was transported by the Coroner’s office to the morgue.
Rodgers was arrested and placed in the sheriff’s patrol car to be transported to jail.
The scene played out in ‘real time,’ with all emergency personnel responding as if it was a real accident, not staged, to give students an idea of how the situation would be if it actually occurred.
The next day the scene was set in the Fauria Gym where there was a casket, a podium, a section for parents of the participating students and a screen set up to view the production as it was filmed.
California Highway Patrol Officer Rich Kennel addressed the crowd and explained that every 15 minutes; someone dies as the result of an alcohol related collision.
The walking dead entered the assembly and each placed a rose on the casket. Vernon escorted Rodgers into the gym in shackles around his wrist and ankles.
Then the video was presented to the students, parents, staff, and guests of the events from the crash scene and beyond, following the injured to the hospitals and the deceased to the morgue, with notification of next of kin part of the production.
Police Chief Erin Kiely then addressed the crowd and advised the students to learn from this event and not make the mistake of drinking and driving.
A few of the students that were part of the walking dead were able to read a deeply thought out letter to their parents and then the parents were able to read their very heartfelt letters to their children.
Gabriela Moya, Jonathen Beliera, Vanessa Ramos, and Emily Blevins all read letters to their parents and Marisa Moya, Alma Leon (Ramos’ sister), Jose Manzo, and Charlie Floyd were the parents that read letters to their children.
The Kleenex was passed around as you heard sniffles and saw many people in the stands as well as parents with tears in their eyes, displaying the emotions that the Every 15 Minutes often brings to the forefront.
“I feel that the event went very well, and that it most definitely had an impact on the kids based not only on the significant audience reactions from both days, but on conversations the juniors and seniors were having after the assembly; I was listening to them talk about it for the rest of the day as I walked around campus,” said Activities Director, Adam Erro.
“We couldn’t have done the program without the support of the CHP, specifically Officer Eric Parsons and Office Rich Kennel. Officer Parsons provided so much help and support,” said Jimenez. “We also had help from Memorial Hospital, Stanislaus County Coroner’s office, Riverbank Sheriff’s office - specifically the Chief and Officer Gary Vernon, Riverbank Fire/Rescue, Ambulance, etc. Many people are to thank for the success of the program.
“The accident scene was powerful and the assembly was too. Students, parents and staff were moved. The students who participated in the event said it was life-changing.”