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March 20, 2014

Staged crash sends message about drunk driving

Pitman High School was the latest stop for the Every 15 Minutes presentation, named for the rate at which Americans die in alcohol-related crashes. The day before their prom, juniors and seniors watched real emergency responders deal with the staged collision.

Three students played dead Thursday, their prom attire splattered in blood from a car crash. Another played the dazed survivor, under arrest for drunken driving.

Pitman High School was the latest stop for the Every 15 Minutes presentation, named for the rate at which Americans die in alcohol-related crashes. Juniors and seniors sat in the bleachers along the school track to watch real emergency responders deal with the staged collision.

“Do you know what’s under the blanket?” California Highway Patrol officer Rich Kennell asked Logan Wolfley, who played the driver. “One of your friends. They’re not with us today. Think about that on the way to jail.”

The students heard the message the day before their prom, an event that might tempt young people to drink. Based on the audience reaction Thursday – stunned silence, mostly – the message got through.

The California Office of Traffic Safety provided a grant for the presentation, based on a concept created by a Pennsylvania-based group. The organizers placed a couple of crumpled cars on the track and had three students, with fake blood on their bodies, portray the passengers who died. Empty beer and liquor bottles rested on the ground.

Emergency workers pried the cars apart to reach the victims. A helicopter landed on the field in the background in case it was needed for transport. Kennell put the driver through sobriety tests, which he flunked.

The Grim Reaper, with scythe in hand and a black hood over his head, wandered the crash scene. Real police officers, with a chaplain’s help, delivered the news to families.

Several students played the “living dead,” a ghoulish honor guard of sorts for the victims as they were hauled away. “When you go to the prom, it’s still fresh in your mind,” said Robert Christiansen, part of this group.

The CHP put on the demonstration with the Turlock police and fire departments, American Medical Response, Emanuel Medical Center and the police department at California State University, Stanislaus. PHI Inc., a helicopter service, provided the chopper.

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