Kids learn of drunk driving dangers

Fireman performs mock excercise. Photo courtesy of Laura Herzog

On the eve of spring break, students at Los Alamitos High School experienced a life-changing event. The program that takes place every two years, called “Every 15 Minutes,” occurred.

It is meant as a shocking, emotionally-charged event with a mission to encourage teenagers to make good choices in their lives – especially when it comes to drinking and driving.

The name of the program was originally established because a death occurred every 15 minutes someone in the United States dies in an alcohol related accident.

Los Alamitos Police, Seal Beach Police, and Orange County Fire Authority all responded to the scene.

The injured were loaded and transported to area hospitals; the driver that had violated the law was interrogated, arrested, and taken to the Los Alamitos Police Department.

Throughout the day, students were removed every 15 minutes from classes throughout the campus and read their own obituary.

These “fatal victims” hypothetically in the crash had white stage make-up applied to their faces by professionals to identify them as the “walking dead” on campus. They were not allowed to talk with anyone for the remainder of the day.

That night, all student participants in the program were taken offsite to an overnight retreat to discuss their experience and feelings that had surfaced during the program. They were also asked to write “goodbye” letters to their parents and family as if they had been given a chance at one last communication.

The following morning, an assembly was presented at the school featuring a video of what experiences the select students and their parents had after the crash scene. Footage included video taken at the crash scene, police department, court house, hospital, and from the death notifications made at students’ homes.

The impact of this year’s program is said to have been just what organizers hoped for.  “The experience has completely rendered my view on the situation of drunk driving. Being the bad man, the one who killed two people completely put me on an emotional rollercoaster. I thought I would be able to be strong but actually facing the judge and going to jail made me feel like it was real and put me through an experience of a lifetime” shared Matt Terrell, who played the drunk driver in this year’s program.

This program brings up issues of alcohol and drug use, overall reckless behavior, and the loss of life. Organizers hope this will, help students stop for a moment, consider how precious life is, and reflect on how much they value their friends and family.

In conclusion of the senior assembly Los Alamitos High School Principal, Dr. Grant Lifkin shared “I don’t want to ever have to announce that we have lost a student like this over the PA system”, shared with tears in his eyes. “Make the right decision and call for a ride.” When the time comes to make a decision that could affect their life or the life of others, we can all hope that one will make the right decision.

To present the program requires numerous hours of preparation and dedication on the part of volunteers, both adult and student.  “All the adults involved are donating their time; that amounts to numerous, numerous hours,” said Lina Lumme, director of the Youth Center. “We all have families, but we are making the time to do this; that’s how much we believe in this program.

For the students involved, it is most likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “The students chosen to participate in the Every 15 Minutes program get a very in depth and personal glimpse into the realities of drinking and driving,” Lumme said. “Many are changed by the experience.”

The Youth Center is proud to lead this event and of the role it plays in the lives of young people and their families and works consistently helping kids stay out of trouble.

Every 15 Minutes is supported by a grant provided by the California Highway Patrol and the California Office of Traffic Safety. Additional partners include Los Alamitos Police Department, Seal Beach Police Department, Los Alamitos Medical Center, Orange County Fire Authority, Mr. C’s Towing and Forest Lawn, Seal Beach Host Lions Club, and Leos’ Club.

Without this team listed above this life changing program would not occur. “If we stop one individual from getting behind the wheel while intoxicated we have done our job,” Lumme said.