Every 15 minutes: don’t contribute to statistic

Chloe Johnson, Staff Writer

I still remember coming late to school my freshman year, and seeing the crash staged in front of the student parking lot. When I was walking to my first period, I saw all of my friends’ smiling faces gazing at me from tombstones staked into the grass. I had absolutely no clue what was going on.

Later in the day, I found out that what I was witnessing was the Every 15 Minutes Program. When I got home, I searched it online, read about what it was, and watched crash videos from other schools. From that point on, I wanted to be part of it when my time came. When I got called down to Mr. Heberle’s class a few months ago, I finally got the opportunity.

One thing that surprised me the most about the process was how involved we had to be. Every 15 Minutes was a much bigger deal than I had anticipated, and it required a lot of its participants, from making our own tombstones to writing our own obituaries.

The hardest part leading up to the big day was keeping the secret. We couldn’t talk to anyone — not even our friends, teachers, or coaches. We were strictly forbidden to tell anyone besides our parents, and anyone who couldn’t keep the secret had to be removed from the program. It had to be a surprise so it would have the biggest possible impact on the student body.

The crash scene was also a lot different than what I had expected. I’m an actress, so I figured I’d just get into character, play my part, and leave like I always do. But this was different.

Seeing friends in that position would shock anyone. The longer the scene went on, the more real it felt, and I no longer had to work to force the tears out of my eyes. They came freely.

The retreat that night was so eye-opening. We listened to first person accounts from all sides of a drunk driving accident: CHP officers, parents who’d lost their children, lawyers, a judge, and many others who’d seen it all. We wrote letters to our loved ones, and back at the Bear Creek cafeteria, they wrote letters to us.

There were a lot of tears, a lot of hugs, and a lot of emotions. One thing’s for sure, I will never let anyone drive under the influence. I learned so much about the importance and fragility of life, and how drunk driving has a butterfly effect that impacts everyone in some way or another.

The program really does make a difference. In Escalon, the community lost 43 high school students to drunk driving accidents in 40 years. When they brought the Every 15 Minutes program to Escalon High School for the first time in 2004, they didn’t lose a single student in the 10 years that followed.

The Every 15 Minutes Program truly changed the way I view my life and the lives of others. Even when you think you may be okay to drive yourself, there are other people out on the road. That’s someone’s child, parent, best friend, or loved one whose life you’re risking every time you make the decision to drink and drive.

Every 15 Minutes, someone in the United States dies in an alcohol-related traffic collision. I don’t like those odds, and I refuse to contribute to that statistic.