Emergency personnel who often deal with broken and bloodied – and sometimes dead – bodies of those casualties of alcohol or drug-related auto crashes put on a realistic demonstration Thursday morning in hopes they never see a Central Valley High School student in one.
The emotionally charged “Every 15 Minutes” program was staged on Service Road just north of the baseball fields to give students a look at what can happen if they get behind the wheel of a car while buzzed or drunk. The program is so named for the fact that every 15 minutes someone in the United States dies in a DUI related crash.
About 900 juniors and seniors were pulled from class unexpectedly and marched out to a set of bleachers on a closed section of Service Road. Like a play, a mock crash simulated the grief and loss of life and futures that DUI crashes impose every year.
The action began with the loud band of a flash grenade and a pre-recorded phone call to 9-1-1 dispatchers as sheets were pulled off a staged “crash” between a red Chevy Cavalier and a white Ford Escort. In the macabre scene, the lifeless body of Jackie Sanchez was sprawled on the asphalt just feet from the Ford. On the white hood was another victim played by Mixtly Vega who was ejected through the windshield and dripping with fake blood.
Climbing out of the Chevy was dazed passenger Carla Martinez who assessed the carnage and turned to Javier Romero Palafox playing the drunken driver. Carla began slamming Javier in the chest and screaming over and over: “You killed them! It’s all your fault! I hate you!”
Within seconds the wail of sirens of fire engines and Ceres Police units shot down Service Road until they reached the scene. Students were able to hear the chatter of paramedics – they were equipped with wireless microphones to a PA system – talk about how Joel Rodriguez Arroyo, strapped to a gurney, could not feel his legs and feet.
Within minutes an H-40 rescue helicopter from the Fresno California Highway Patrol aero squadron hovered atop the scene and landed on the baseball field. Paramedics and firefighters loaded up Vega into the same chopper which has provided rescue extractions from Yosemite National Park. It then rose out of sight.
The exercise included Officer Jerry Kessler taking aside the DUI actor – who said he only had two beers – and administering a field sobriety test that included a finger count and walking a straight line. When Palafox failed, Officer Kessler handcuffed him while announcing he would be charged with felony DUI and “probably manslaughter.” As he was being led him off to the hospital for a blood draw to be used as evidence in a court trial, Kessler caused Palafox to pause on the wreckage, pronouncing, “This is what you caused today.”
Standing in silent witness was a number of CVHS students who had been pulled from class. The students represent those taken too young in a DUI crash. Their faces were made up to resemble skulls. Playing the “living dead” were students Envyh Brown, Alondra Bustmante, Lily Cantaloube, Kayla Cardis, Thomas Carrillo, Nia Caraway, Alejandra Cazares, Sahib Dhaliwal, Naudia Gonzales, Emanuel Jimenez De La Torre, Bell-Rubie Martinez, Joeziah Mendez, Jocelyn Moreno, Ryan Palecek, Brianna Quiroz, Mark Ramirez and Ivan Vasesquez.
The simulation ended when a coroner’s van pulled up and staff members picked up the dead body of Sanchez for a trip to the morgue on Oakdale Road in Modesto.
On Friday juniors and seniors assembled in the multi-purpose room for an emotional mock funeral for the victims. Speaking were Ivan Vasesquez and Lily Cantaloube. Ivan challenged his fellow students to remember this program and not drink and drive or get into car of someone who’s been drinking.
Parents of Envyh Brown, Javier Romero Palafox and Thomas Carrillo also spoke of the impact of the program.
Former Ceres High School activities director Linda Cooper was one of a handful of dedicated community members who began organizing the event in September.
“This is probably the most significant input and event of my career,” said Cooper. “If it just saves one life it’ll all be worth it.”
Cooper helped to organize the first “Every 15 Minutes” program in Ceres in 2000 with Louie Arrollo. That first program included the assistance of Kim Chapman (Johnson) and Officer (now Sergeant (Jason Coley). Cooper said the program does impact students, saying she’s received letters from students months and years later offering thanks for the program. A number of parents of those students have returned to help organized the newer events.
Organizer Kathi Foster said the participants were respectful and took the program seriously.
“We always say if just one person makes a different decision all our hard work is worth it,” said Foster. “Well with this group of students and parents I assure you it’ll be more than just one we are saving which is why I love this program so much. We have to be vigilante about saving people in our community and that means their family and my own family.”