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Drama drives home DUI consequences
Central Valley High School students received a realistic lesson in the consequences of driving while under the influence during a surprise "Every 15 Minutes" program staged Thursday morning on Service Road adjacent to the baseball fields.

Typically the program has been offered at Ceres high schools prior to graduation but officials felt a surprise scheduling made sense given that holiday parties, proms and football games give teens ample of excuses to use alcohol and then tempt them to get behind the wheel of a car.

The intent of the "Every 15 Minutes" program is to give students a graphic representation of real-life consequences of drunk driving. The chillingly authentic re-creation centered on a pair of crashed cars and mangled occupants who were being triaged by a small army of off-duty policemen and firefighters and finally the coroner who whisked away fatality victim played by Jesse Magana. The drama began with a loud flash bang to get the attention of students assembled quietly in the three sets of bleachers, followed by a 9-1-1 call played over the sound system, the cries of frantic survivor Marlen Diaz, a responding wail of sirens and arrival of emergency vehicles over cries of anguish from victims. It continued through a field sobriety test given by Officer Jason Coley to student Berzain Esparza who played the drunk driver. After failing the test, Esparza was led off in handcuffs as Coley said, "I hope you realize the severity of this accident ... you better hope to hell you're not the cause of this accident." Coley led Magana past the lifeless body of Magana, which was covered by a plastic yellow sheet, and said, "You won't be talking to him anymore."

Within minutes, the Medi-Flight helicopter was dropping onto the school grounds as one of the victims, Trinidad Cazares, was whisked off to Doctors Medical Center where she succumbed to injuries. Artificially bloodied up victim Raul Godinez - he becomes a quadriplegic from injuries - added to the realism.

During the exercise, foreboding "grim reapers" played by Ceres officers Bryce Stevenson and Carlos Quiroz walked around the macabre scene with wooden-handed sickles in hand. A silent and emotionless group of eight students, representing the "walking dead," watched the calamity with whitened faces and darkened eye sockets to represent corpses.

The drama continued unrelentingly all day Thursday in classrooms when pre-chosen students were pulled from class every 15 minutes to represent a victim who dies every 15 minutes each day from a drunken driving crash in America. A brief obituary of the student was read as they silently left the classroom. Students who were tapped out were cut off from family and friends for the rest of Thursday and through Friday until after the program's conclusion.

Participants had prior approval of their parents to spend the night at a location for a chaperoned retreat on Thursday, not being allowed to go home. There the students wrote farewell letters to their family and engaged in team-building exercises. Parents of those involved also met Thursday evening for a retreat, writing good-bye letters to their child, hearing guest speakers and writing letters to their children. Some were read at the Friday assembly.

One by one, a parent of a victim was paid a visit at home or job site by a pastor or uniformed officer who made an in-person death notification.

Other students who were among the walking wounded or pulled from a class as "dead" were: Eric Munoz, Cynthia Valencia, Karla Rodridguez, Carla Andrade, Amy Perez, Vincent Martinez, Yadira Tovar, Fransisco Gradilla, Raul Castro, Jennifer Valencia, Claudia Hernandez, Euris Mazorra, Heather Walker, Sam Gaede, Rachel Gonzalez, Alejandra Perez, Alexis Womack, Alexis Zigala, Survian Khamsongvod and Johan Aguilar.

On Friday morning, juniors and seniors were brought into the gym for a mock memorial service where they heard emotional speeches and watched a heart-wrenching video of the accident scene, and victims being carted to the hospital or morgue ¬- and watching the reaction of parents who were told their child was severely injured or dead.

CHP spokesman Eric Parson said the program is making an impression on young people to not drink and drive statewide. In the 1990s the program was named after the statistic that drunk driving accounted for a road death or seriously injured person every 15 minutes in America. The statistics show fewer DUI deaths, now about one every 22 minutes.

"I think students now are definitely are going to be aware of the consequences of drinking and driving and will stop and think before making choices," said CVHS activities director Kristin Lilly-Porter.