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A grim lesson for Pitman students
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Kydo Phe portrays a crash victim who had to be airlifted during Thursday morning’s Every 15 Minutes presentation at Pitman High School (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

What Pitman High School junior and senior students thought was going to be a regular assembly turned out to be a depiction of a violent, bloody and emotional DUI scene on Thursday morning.

For the first time since 2022, members of the Pride experienced the California Highway Patrol’s Every 15 Minutes program, a campaign of over 25 years aimed at encouraging individuals to make smart decisions before getting behind the wheel and hammering home the harrowing statistic that, at the time of the program’s inception, a life was lost in the nation every 15 minutes due to drunk driving accidents.

“People say that when we do this program, it saves one life,” said CHP Public Information Officer Tom Olsen. “But my bar is much higher. Sure, we'll take that one life, but my goal is always to save hundreds of lives, and I believe this program has done that.

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Pitman’s Mia Santoya acts as a wounded, distressed victim on Thursday during the school’s Every 15 Minutes presentation (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

“It's intense. It’s supposed to be intense. Emotion sells regarding this program. It’s about DUI, but it’s ultimately about making good choices out there.”

Playing the role of the impaired driver was senior Blayne Siebert. Isaac Montes played the part of the deceased passenger, while Kydo Phe and Abigail Diaz were the critically injured. Mia Santoya played the panicked passenger, screaming and crying at the sight of the fake crash.

The graphic reenactment was put on with the help of Turlock Police, Turlock Fire, Stanislaus State UPD, American Medical Response, Turlock Chaplaincy, CALSTAR air medics, Stanislaus County Public Safety Center and a grant from the Office of Traffic Safety. 

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Alongside the grim reaper, Pitman High students David Garcia, Sean Forte Richard, Jaden Aghoustin, Aidan Davis and Chrys Kamesh portray victims who pass away due to DUI crashes every 15 minutes across the nation during Thursday morning’s Every 15 Minutes presentation (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

“This grant used to be just focused on alcohol, and now it's focused on anything that impairs you. Now we can talk about drugs, marijuana, alcohol, you name it. It’s anything that impairs your ability to drive a motor vehicle,” Olsen explained. “So, it's nice that the brand has adapted in that manner.”

That messaging came across on Thursday, as recently popularized and trendy Happy Dad seltzers came rolling out of Siebert’s “car.” Officers demonstrated a field sobriety test on Siebert before determining he was “under the influence of alcohol,” handcuffing him and driving him away in a patrol vehicle.

Siebert and his classmates were asked to participate as they are excellent students who are involved in numerous activities across campus. Prior to Thursday’s program, the Pitman track star received a pep talk from officers.

“This is real,” one said. “You have a scholarship and your entire future in front of you. That can all be gone in an instant because of just one bad decision.”

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Pitman’s Blayne Siebert plays the role of a drunk driver during the school’s Every 15 Minutes presentation on Thursday morning. Officers demonstrated a fake field sobriety test on Siebert before determining he was “under the influence of alcohol,” handcuffing him and driving him away in a patrol vehicle (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

Siebert took the message to heart, keeping a mostly serious look before stepping out onto the grass fields of the school to prepare for the reenactment. And while there were a few in the crowd who laughed at some scenes, as some adolescents do, the greater majority were locked in. Some even became emotional.

“There are a bunch of emotions,” Siebert said. “I feel like I have a future with track and athletics and whatnot, so doing this, the realization sets in of it being taken away and for (futures of) others being taken away too when doing alcohol or drugs, especially when driving.

“With this, I’m hoping people realize just how serious this is. Don't do things like this. It's okay to ask for help and say you need a ride.”

On Friday, the program continued for its second and final day, where “funerals” for those who were shown to have passed away in Thursday’s “crash,” as well as students were pulled out of class by a person dressed in a grim reaper costume every 15 minutes to represent the lives lost every day in DUI accidents.

The two days were incredibly long for those chosen to act and for participating community organizations. But while those two days seemed long, they don’t compare to the feeling of actually losing a loved one in a DUI accident, said Olsen.

“It puts things in perspective,” Olsen said. “And when students get this perspective at this age, it can make a huge difference.”