Prom is one of the most highly anticipated moments for high school students across the country, but the tone at Pitman High School was somber rather than upbeat before the big night on Friday. Aptly timed, the local school played host to the Every 15 Minutes program, a powerful recreation of a fatal drunk driving car crash that involves students as the victims and perpetrator of the casualty.
Twenty-two Pitman students were implicated in the crash with three students “killed” in the accident by “drunk driver” Logan Wolfley, a senior. After a simulation of the accident in front of the junior and senior classes on Thursday that left three students taken by ambulance or airlifted to the local hospital, the destroyed car was placed in the center of campus as a haunting reminder of the fatality. True to the statistic that every 15 minutes a life is claimed from alcohol, a student was taken by the "grim reaper" from classes across the campus every 15 minutes.
“The ultimate goal is to help teens make good choices. You can be a good kid and make one bad choice and injure another person or yourself and it can change your life forever,” said Eric Parsons, the public information officer for the California Highway Patrol.
While the event is simulated, the powerful emotions are authentic as participants, parents and onlookers attended a rally on Friday and watched a 30 minute video of the crash in horror as the ramifications of the accident played out, such as a mother having to identify her daughter’s body. Students that were a part of the statistic represented the “living dead” and read poignant letters to their parents most with tears smearing the black and white makeup on their faces that marked them as “dead.” Parents also read letters to their deceased children reflecting upon the things that they will never get to experience together.
“Let us take this time to realize that life is a gift from God and we need to take care of it,” said victim Pedro Ramirez Hernandez’s father in Spanish.
While the event aims to ultimately serve as a cautionary tale to remind students to make good choices, the program emotionally impacts administrators, family members and onlookers as well. The original statistic, discovered in the 1990s, on which the program is based states that a life is claimed every 15 minutes by alcohol and as of the mid 2000s, that statistic has since decreased to one person being killed every 30 minutes.
“While there is no way for us to know how many students’ lives were saved by seeing this program, the statistics proves that it’s working,” said Parsons.
Funding for this program was provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.