Rain smeared blood all over the pavement at Sonoma Valley High School Thursday as students screamed in pain and cried in devastation at a horrific two-car collision caused by drunk drivers. Emergency personnel responded to the gruesome accident and one student was taken away in handcuffs while several others were rushed to the hospital or the morgue. A palpable lesson hung in the air as the junior and senior classes witnessed the aftermath of the alcohol-related accident – don’t drink and drive.
The realistic scene was staged as part of the national program, Every 15 Minutes, which seeks to prevent alcohol-related car accidents among teens by promoting awareness of the severity of these types of crashes and how they affect a community.
Sixteen juniors and seniors were nominated by teachers to participate in the dramatized program with “victims” played by Javia Headley, Aaron Pino, Jazmin Chavez, Dylan Arias, Danny Banales, Adalid Hernandez, Dylan Ferreira, Ava Gonzales, Luis Ikeo, Gina Peil, Rodrigo Rico, Bryan Ruiz, Christen Silkey, Sam Sondheim and Crystal Vences. Student Owen Ljung played the grim reaper.
The event, which is organized by School Resource Officer Matt Regan, Sonoma Valley Fire Rescue Capt. Jeff Paganini and SVHS history teacher Bernadette Weissmann, takes about six months to plan, with involvement from the Sonoma Police Department, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, California Highway Patrol, Sonoma Valley Hospital, Sonoma County Coroner’s Office, Sonoma Valley Fire Rescue, Bonneau’s Towing and Mechanical, Duggan’s Mission Chapel and numerous other volunteers.
The 24-hour simulation began with the staged accident on Thursday morning, with six student participants and an assembly of juniors and seniors who witness the crash scene and see what could happen if their peers were actually drinking and texting while driving, and caused a fatal accident. Throughout the day, more students are removed from class to demonstrate the program’s founding idea “every 15 minutes someone dies in an alcohol-related crash.”
The 16 students were secluded from the rest of their peers and their families and taken to jail, the morgue and the hospital as if they really were involved in that tragic accident.
They then spent a night away from their families, with no cellphone or outside communication, under the supervision of designated chaperones. During the retreat, students and parents wrote letters to each other as if they had a chance to say goodbye before “dying” in a drunk driving accident.
While parents are notified their children will be participating in the simulation, they aren’t told in exactly what capacity. As a result, they experience very real emotions, parent Victor Headley said. It wasn’t until he sat down to write the letter to his daughter, Javia Headley, that Victor Headley realized the gravity of the program. Javia Headley played one of the passengers in the crash and was “paralyzed” in the accident. “This could be a possibility and it really hits home. You never think something like this could happen and this helps students understand it’s possible,” Victor Headley said.
Tombstones are set up on campus to honor the “victims” of the crash. On Friday, a mock memorial service was held at an assembly with all juniors and seniors – including the sixteen student participants and their families – and members of local law enforcement, fire and rescue and health services in attendance.