Jamel Foreman knew it was a simulation. He knew that his son, Turlock High senior J.T. Foreman, would be playing a role in the Every 15 Minutes program’s staged auto accident.
And, yet, knowing it was a charade made it no easier for him when he had to identify his son in the Stanislaus County Coroner’s Office.
“It was difficult,” said Foreman, who did not know beforehand which role his son would be assigned. “Even though you know in your mind that it’s all made up, going to the coroner’s office was eye-opening.
“They did such a good job with the makeup and made it look so realistic, it hits you emotionally and it’s kind of hard to pretend that it’s not real.”
Wednesday was the second day of the two-day program, which featured a funeral in the gymnasium for the three “victims” of a simulated alcohol-related auto accident on Tuesday at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds, where the fake accident was staged.
On Wednesday, Turlock High seniors and juniors filled Bulldog Arena and watched a 30-minute video that featured a montage of celebratory events on the campus before showing highlights of the simulated accident.
Foreman played the part of the deceased passenger, Alexis Goularte portrayed the impaired driver, Sydney Streeter and Kevin Lizarraga were the critically injured — who “died” later at Emanuel Hospital — and Dalton Howry played the panicked passenger trying desperately to help.
Foreman and Goularte believe the program’s impact will be long-lasting on their classmates.
“This experience was life-changing,” said Foreman. “Seeing how car accidents are taken care of and going to the coroner’s office and seeing those bodies, it really touches your heart. It’s life-changing.”
Goulart used the same term in describing the program.
“Going into it, I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was life-changing,” said Goularte. “The video was taken seriously by our class. We all like to have fun, I’ve been to parties and I’ve seen people make bad decisions. I really hope this experience changes someone’s outlook.”
During the gymnasium service, a woman was invited to speak to the assembly about the perils of drunk driving. She told the story of a girl she knew who got behind the wheel while intoxicated and was involved in an auto accident that resulted in the death of two people. Then, to the surprise of most everybody in the gym, the speaker stepped out of her street clothes to reveal the orange prison jumpsuit she’d been concealing underneath.
“That girl was me,” she revealed, telling the students that she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for two counts of vehicular manslaughter.
She was handcuffed and led outside to a vehicle that returned her to the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.
Also part of the program were parents reading letters to other 15-minute “victims.” Kristin Lopes, mother of Turlock High student Aiden Lopes, wept while she read a letter to her son, whose face was made up ghostly white as he joined his mother and father, Jeff, on the dais.
Lopes struggled to get through her prepared remarks.
“A very small portion of me knew he was right to the left of me,” said Lopes. “But the bigger part of me truly believed that something had happened. I couldn’t differentiate between the two. It was very emotional.”
Aiden Lopes hopes his classmates take away one very important message from the two-day program.
“Just make good choices,” he said.
The program is so named because when it was conceived, one person died every 15 minutes in the United States from an alcohol-related automobile accident.
“It’s no longer every 15 minutes,” said CHP officer Tom Olsen, public information spokesman. “I think the last time I checked, it was every 53 minutes. So, we’re making that progress.”
Involved in the two-day production were the Turlock Police Department, Turlock Fire Department, Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office, Cal State Stanislaus Police Department, California Highway Patrol, AMR ambulance service, and Whitehurst-Norton-Dias Funeral Service.
Daydreams and Nightmares in Modesto created the gruesome crash makeup, Starbucks provided breakfast for the crew, and Sounds In Motion provided DJ services.
The Every 15 Minutes program originated in Canada and made its first appearance in California in Chico in 1995.