Every 15 Minutes

Sadie Neville, Staff Writer

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“Every 15 minutes, someone is injured or killed in an alcohol-related collision.”

On Apr. 20 and 21, the La Mesa Police Department partnered with Helix Charter High School to help students become aware of the reality and impact behind this statistic, in a program called “Every 15 Minutes.”

Pre-selected Helix juniors and seniors were removed from either their first or second periods on Apr. 20. A man dressed as the Grim Reaper, the personification of death, entered each of the students’ classrooms and tapped them out, one by one.

These students were removed from class, as they were previously selected to be “killed” in an accident involving driving under the influence.

A few among the “dead” were Charlie Martin, Jaylen Arnold, Rilyn Gardner, Kaitlyn Keys, Matthew Goldman, and freshman history teacher, Mr. Brett McKinney.

The students were then taken to a room on campus where they were covered in white and gray facial makeup to appear dead. They were also given headstones hung around their necks with an attached paper that had their personal obituaries.

The phones of the “dead” were confiscated, and for the rest of the day, they would remain silent and non-participatory in each of their classes, instructed to interact with no one, including their teachers and friends.

After the makeup was in place, they returned to class, accompanied by a La Mesa City Police Officer. The officer recited an explanation of the event, emphasizing that it would last over the course of the next two days. They then proceeded to read out loud an obituary about the student that was written by that student’s family.

During third period on Apr. 20, junior and senior classes were directed to the front of school and told to take seats on the grassy hill facing Helix’s Highlander Way.

A scene was laid out featuring two totalled cars, each with students injured inside.

As the presentation was played out, two boys ran from El Compadre Taco Shop across the street and dialed 911 as witnesses to the “crash.”

Emergency first responders poured onto the scene, including city police officers, firemen, an ambulance, and a coroner.

Senior Carson Baker was “arrested” for a DUI after admitting to drinking two cans of beer and driving under the influence of such. He was handcuffed after a series of field sobriety tests, including a breathalyzer.

Throughout the presentation, the Grim Reaper could be seen on the side of the hill, as the aforementioned “living dead” students were standing scattered amongst the crowd.

A La Mesa City Police Officer closed the demonstration with a speech on the effects of teen drinking and driving, reiterating that someone is killed in a DUI collision every 15 minutes.

The Grim Reaper then led the scattered students to the front of the crash scene. They watched as the crowd filed out and as the officer urged passersby to think of the “living dead” as themselves.

What would they do to prevent the loss of their own lives?

Then the living dead, and those participating in the car crash, were taken away for an extensive overnight trip.

On Friday, April 21, junior and senior classes gathered in the Helix gym for an assembly.

The assembly began with a mock funeral for the students and teachers who “died” in the demonstration. A slideshow at the front of the gym played pictures of them, from their early years until now.

Emotions arose from the crowd as spectators began to recognize stills of their friends and family.

Senior Nathon Gwin, whose brother was involved in the event, spoke on how “Every 15 Minutes” affected his family. Gwin said, “Even just the thought of it could shake any parent, and the fact that it was my brother [junior, Ryan Gwin] made it difficult on my family.”

Following the funeral, speakers from all sides of the event took to the podium to share their stories.

One of the featured speakers, Larry McNamer, spoke of his son was killed by a drunk driver years ago. He shared his emotional story of coping with the loss and grief.

Although the accident was more than 20 years ago, McNamer admitted that the image of his son lying in a body bag still haunts him everyday.

Kaitlyn Keys’ mother read aloud a letter she wrote to her supposedly dead daughter about all the things she didn’t tell Keys.

Through the tears, she reminded “the parents out there that didn’t get a chance to hug, or say goodbye, or give a goodnight kiss [to their children],” to take the time to do that sometime that day.

Students and staff members alike were touched by the speakers, and their views on impaired driving were strengthened.

Ms. Cheryl Tyler, math teacher, SADD Club advisor, and coordinator of the event said, “that seeing it had an effect on so many kids […] and knowing that we’re reaching so many” was the most powerful part of the project.
Tyler believes that “Every 15 Minutes” will hold a lasting impact on students, reminding them to think before they get into a car drunk, or with a driver who is under the influence.

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