An emotional campus-wide funeral was held Thursday at Turlock High School to remember three students who passed away Wednesday in a violent alcohol-related collision at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds.
Amanda Garcia, 18, was killed after her fellow student Camille Roberts, 18, drove while under the influence and slammed her vehicle into a car driven by THS student Edgar Meza, 19, killing him and passenger Bryce Simmons, 17.
Roberts survived the crash and was booked into jail for drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter.
This crash scene scenario and resulting events, while not real, hit home to juniors and seniors at Turlock High School last week during a two-day event known as “Every 15 Minutes.”
The event is designed to create a powerful, realistic depiction of the events leading up to, including and following a drunk-driving collision in which multiple high school students are killed. Every 15 minutes is an educational experience that reminds students, and an entire community of the dangers of drunk driving.
While the crash and funeral are staged, the emotions of the event are very real.
THS students were taken by bus to Food Maxx Arena Wednesday morning, unaware of what they were about to witness. Just after they stands are full a loud flash and bang startled the students and a crash scene involving two cars is unveiled before them. The crash scene is as realistic as can be. A bloodied body was hanging out of a windshield, and an eerie silence crept over the scene. Then screams and cries of pain were heard. Over the loudspeaker a 911 call is made and minutes later the faint sound of sirens can be heard as rescue crews and law enforcement arrive.
As the responders arrive, the driver, Roberts, exits her car to find her friend, Garcia unconscious in the passenger seat. Roberts, with her face covered in blood, looks around the scene in horror. All you can hear is her screams of terror while a slight breeze rolls around several aluminum beer cans which had fallen out the car.
Slowly the grim reaper appeared as first responders begin removing bodies from the mangled vehicles. His menacing presence walks around the scene as he claimed three young lives. Passenger Byrce Simmons was dead on arrival and his body was placed a few yards away from the scene. His lifeless body was covered by a yellow tarp.
During the entire scene the crowd of several hundred students was eerily silent, a remarkable sight for high school students.
Garcia and Meza were taken to the hospital where they later died as a result of their injuries.
Every 15 Minutes continued on throughout Wednesday, with the dead students taken to the funeral home, parents visited to confirm their identities and Roberts was booked in jail. Back on campus the grim reaper visited classrooms to remove students “Every 15 Minutes.” Counselors were brought on campus to help students deal with the emotions they were feeling.
Thursday morning the reality hit home, and on campus gravestones and wall memorials were set up. Scores of the ‘living dead’ — those students claimed by the grim reaper throughout Tuesday — were gone. The funeral was held in the gym with students, friends and family of the deceased in attendance. Roberts was in a jail orange jumpsuit, handcuffed and destroyed emotionally and physically. Tears flowed as the reality hit home. THS principal Dana Trevethan, known as a tough, yet caring woman, was visibly shaken as she wore a pair of dark sunglasses inside the gym.
“These kids are all well-liked and well-known around campus. My children are friends with some of the kids who were killed. This has created a solemn sense of awareness that it could be someone close to you. At the very least this will make every kid think twice and if we can do that and save even one life then it is well worth it,” said Trevethan.
“The goal of Every 15 Minutes is to show the severity of what can happen when you make a poor decision and that it can happen in a split second- everything you know can be gone and it serves as a way to remind the kids that they aren’t invincible,” explained THS assistant principal Isaias Rumayor.
The results of the event, which has occurred at high schools throughout the country since the 1990s, is starting to pay off. According to CHP Public Information Officer Eric Parsons, the “15” minutes in the title has actually slowed to 22 minutes.
“It may not seem like much, but instead of four people an hour it is now three people per hour and if you multiply that over days and weeks and months, it’s a lot of lives saved,” he said.
Parents also felt the impact of the event. Stacey and Randy Smith, parents of THS senior Michael Smith, who was a ‘living dead’ participant, were moved by the event.
“This is huge, this is a wonderful program and I feel it can make a difference. It helps young people to realize the consequences of a choice that is not well thought out. I’m so happy and feel so privileged our son got to participate in this,” said Stacey Smith.
Every 15 Minutes is funded by the California Office of Transportation and directed by the California Highway Patrol.
To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141, ext. 2015.