This year Crescenta Valley and La Cañada high schools will again host the Every 15 Minutes program at their schools.
Every two years the program is brought to the two local high schools. It begins with a selection of students to be role players in the program, which brings the reality of driving under the influence to the campus. The group of students fill roles from drivers to victims.
“Absolutely the program [makes a difference],” said CHP Officer Ming Yang hsu. “I was [at CVHS] two years ago and it made an emotional impact on the students.”
Students came up to him after the program and talked about how it had affected them, he added.
“It carries out past the high school [experience],” hsu added. “Although the program focuses on teenagers, it does carry on [into] adult lives.”
Glendale Officer Bill Torley has been part of the program for about 13 years. He advises not only the Glendale area but surrounding communities as well.
Although the program may not affect all the students, getting a few to think twice before getting into a vehicle with someone who has been drinking or, as they get older, realize the importance of a designated driver makes this a life-saving program.
“I think it is very important at this age,” said CHP Officer Kevin Denmon.
This is the age where students might be tempted to get into a car with someone who has been drinking, Denmon added.
He said Every 15 Minutes – named for the statistic that someone dies from an alcohol-related auto collision every 15 minutes – shows students the consequences of bad decisions.
A grant is available for the program from the California Office of Traffic Safety; the California Highway Patrol offers mini-grants for the program. Each school raises funds to help offset the cost of the program as well.
“The PTSA is a [supportive] contributor,” said Charlotte Sassounian, CVHS assistant principal.
Sassounian is the mentor for the program at CVHS. She has had several meetings with the kids that are participating as actors in the presentation and with their parents.
“The [kids] seem very excited about the program,” she said. “We started with 94 names [of kids that were interested in being involved] and have now brought it down to 43 kids.”
At CVHS, the program will begin on Feb. 9 with the Grim Reaper walking into classrooms to pull out prearranged students every 15 minutes. From that point on, those students do not have any contact with parents or friends.
The aftermath of a driving under the influence car accident is then staged on the street, in the past on Ramsdell Avenue. CHP and fire emergency responders arrive at the scene. Actor students bring realism to the scene that is played in front of their junior and senior classmates. With the help of special effects makeup, the scene is eerily like a real accident scene. Some students are taken to the hospital, while others wait for the arrival of the Los Angeles County Coroner’s van.
The DUI driver is arrested and taken to Glendale jail.
“We do go to the courthouse and the [driver] is booked and put in jail,” Sassounian said.
She added that in previous years, even though everyone is aware it is a performance, when the jail door closes it becomes very real.
Torley said that one of the most difficult moments for the student is when they have to call their parent and tell them they have been arrested for DUI.
The driver is then taken to court and a judge passes sentence. The students are brought to a hotel to spend the night writing notes to their parents about their “death.”
The next day juniors and seniors gather for an assembly where a video of before and after the accident is viewed, including the sheriffs telling parents of the accident and in some cases of the fatality. The assembly is also a mock funeral/memorial. Some of the students read their letters they wrote parents.
“This impacts the kids and they do remember it,” Sassounian said.
Despite the somber subject, hsu and Torley said they do not expect all students to take this program seriously.
“It’s the same old story; you will have some that [are not affected] but the majority learn from the lesson,” Torley said.
Although students, whether participating or watching, are aware that the victims and driver are acting, there is enough realism that most are moved by what they witness.
hsu added the lessons learned do save lives.
Every 15 Minutes at CVHS will be on Feb. 9 and Feb. 10, and at La Cañada High School on April 12 and April 13.