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Mock DUI crash warn teens of drinking, driving
The mind knew it was staged but the emotions thought it was real.

Juniors and seniors from Ceres and Central Valley high schools had ring side seats Thursday to a mock DUI crash that took the lives or injures their peers as part of the Every 15 Minutes program. The intent was to give students - at the outset of the traditional partying season - a graphic representation of the real-life consequences of drunk driving.

Approximately 800 students were ordered to gather at a closed-down intersection of Whitmore Avenue and Third Street where two cars were wrecked in a simulated crash. The artificially bloodied body of Christina Navarro lie still on the pavement, a pool of fake blood coagulating from her wounded head. In her car were other Central Valley High School students Tony Marquez, who played an impaired driver, and wounded passengers Jessica O'Rourke and Crystal Gutierrez.

A red car contained the role players from Ceres High School. Melissa Ruger played the drunk driver, and her passengers were Bret Sayad, who becomes a quadraplegic from injuries, and Steven Chavez, who died of his. Brooklyn Andreasen played another passenger who was hurt.

The drama was cued by a frantic 9-1-1 call played over the loud speaker. A siren began waling in the background and drew closer. In moments the scene was a flurry of emergency workers and police officers.

Students watched as victims were cut from the wreckage and treated and officers interviewing victims and conducting field sobriety tests on the drivers.

"It's powerful and it works," said Tom Killian, Public Information officer for the California Highway Patrol, one of the agencies involved in the program. "These kids get the message. Whether they practice what they see, we hope."

The program began Thursday morning before the simulated crash when numerous other students were "tapped out" by The Grim Reaper. During the course of the day, the specter visited classrooms every 15 minutes to take another student to represent a DUI death every 15 minutes in the nation. 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.

On Friday, students were brought in to the new gym to watch a heart-wrenching video of the accident scenario, followed by the aftermath - going with the victims to the hospital or morgue - and watching the reaction of parents who were told their child was severely injured or dead.

Participating students had prior approval of their parents to stay the night at a location for a retreat on Thursday, not being allowed to go home. Parents of those involved also met Thursday evening for a retreat, hearing several guest speakers and writing letters to their children. Some were read at the Friday assembly.

Many of those participating said it had an impact on them and, based on the reaction of students in the crowd watching the accident scene, it affected many of the spectators as well.

Ceres Fire Department, Ceres Police, AMR Ambulance, the California Highway Patrol, Memorial Hospital and Memorial Medi-Flight and Stanislaus County Coroner's office were among those involved in putting on the program, with assistance of staff from both high schools.

Killian said that most students have made up their mind about whether they will engage in dangerous behaviors but the event should cause them to think harder about letting their friends leave the scene of a party.

"It shows them that there are some real life consequences and that they have a responsibility to themselves and each other," said Killian.

Killian said that he has helped organize nine of the events in the Stanislaus County area. He said one held in Patterson recently hit home because of the recent death of a popular cheerleader in a solo vehicle crash.

Every 15 Minutes activities are funded by a $9,999 grant issued by the Office of Traffic Safety. Both Ceres and Central Valley high schools received individual grants.