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Sim tragedy aims to save lives
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Turlock High student Nicole Larson reacts to being arrested for causing the deaths of friends in a drunk driving accident simulation held at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds on Wednesday. - photo by Photo courtesy of Bill Weber

The Stanislaus County Fairgrounds is usually the host of happy occasions, but on Wednesday morning it was a site of tragedy.

Fortunately, the tragedy was a mock scenario for Turlock High School’s “Every 15 minutes” program.

Twisted metal streaked with blood was what  THS juniors and seniors found at the fairground's arena, giving them an up close and personal look at an accident cause by a student drunk driver.

“It makes a huge deal of impact to the students,” said Assistant Principal Joe Cusenza.  “We try to put this together every couple of years so it gives every student the opportunity to witness it and realize the detrimental effects caused by drunk driving.”

The concept behind “Every 15 Minutes” is for the students to learn firsthand the consequences of drunk driving and the aftermath of the gory crash.  This year’s scenario was of senior student Nicole Larson who crashes her car while driving drunk, and killing three of her classmates. The staged scenario ends with the recently deceased being taken away in a hearse followed by the 'Grim Reaper.'

“It was a fantastic experience knowing that I saved lives by playing the part of a student drunk driver,” said Larson.  “It affected people who watched it, including myself. I was taken to jail and treated as a criminal. It was an eye opening experience.”

Throughout the day, the death toll of drunken driving grows as the Grim Reaper collects a new victim every 15 minutes. According to Cusenza, in the 14 years that the program has been brought to high school students, many lives have been saved.

“Students don’t really understand the effects of drunk driving unless it happens to them,” said Cusenza. 

To simulate the feeling of loss, all the victims are kept overnight at a separate site, away from friends and family. A special assembly is held the next day with a mock funeral, giving students the opportunity to share their individual experiences. Parents also share their own thoughts and gut-wrenching feelings of indentifying their child at a county morgue.

“Nowadays many high school students give into peer pressure when it comes to drinking,” said Larson.  “They take life for granted and do not realize that one drunken mistake can cost the lives of many people. I am happy to know that I was able to touch people and save lives through this program.”