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DUI crash simulated at CVHS to drive home life-saving lesson
Ceres Police Officer Freddie Ortiz arrests Central Valley High School student Carlos Fregoso Zamora during Monday mornings Every 15 Minutes program and its mock DUI crash on Service Road. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

The loud boom of a flash grenade kicked off the drama of a simulated car crash on Service Road adjacent to Central Valley High School for Monday morning's surprise "Every 15 Minutes" program designed to impress upon students the dangers of drinking and driving.

In seconds students heard a 9-1-1 call over the loudspeaker with the cover coming off two cars set up for a mock crash, complete with an ejected bloody passenger and a flurry of police. In minutes, firefighter, police and paramedic activity were set on motion to triage victims, stage a rescue of trapped victims and portray a field sobriety test on the suspected drunken driver played by student Carlos Fregoso Zamora.

Ambulances carried off the injured as the Medi-Flight helicopter whisked away the most gravely injured, student/actor Wilbert Soriano. Coroner's officials took away the lifeless body of Wilber Arrellano, who was smeared with blood-like syrup as he lay ejected through the windshield onto the hood of the car. Trapped inside the victim's car, driver Brenda Diaz, was cut out by firefighters using the "jaws of life."

Gabriela Bonales, a frantic passenger in the drunken driver's car, paced around the scene with reactions to the horrifying scene before her. Her tears, screams and cries were realistically played before her classmates amid the rush of emergency activity in full play before her classmates.

"If we can impact just one of you to make the right choice in the future, we've done our job today," Ceres Police Sgt. Jason Coley told the high school students after the drama concluded.

The day's events started when school started and pre-selected students were pulled from class by the Grim Reaper as a symbol of the sudden taking of lives in DUI-related crashes every 15 minutes across the nation. The students were kept away from their classmates and kept overnight at a retreat where they reflected on how thousands lose their lives in alcohol- and drug-related crashes. The students were also cut off from their cell phones and social media during the time. Parents of those students were paid visits by police chaplains who made "death notifications" at their homes or work places.

The event continued into Tuesday with a school assembly in the gym with a somber and emotional memorial service for the accident victims. The event featured emotional speeches given by parents and students and the showing of a video made at the crash scene and following the victims to the morgue and hospital and the suspect being jailed.

Ceres Police Sgt. Jason Coley said his department allocated seven personnel to the event but relied on faithful volunteers like Kathi Foster, Susan Borges, Kim Chapman Johnson, Shellie Coutrakis, Linda Cooper and Felicia Chapman.

"I have at least two or three people who have done this since 2000, volunteering their time to run this program, which means meeting months in advance on their own time to make sure this program happens," said Sgt. Coley. "Without them it would not happen. If they decide to quit one day this program may stop."

Foster said since grant funding for the event has been cut, efforts were made to seek donations from the community and businesses.

The first "Every 15 Minutes" program in Ceres was at Ceres High School was held in 2000.