Tears fell and Kleenex boxes were passed around in the Freedom gymnasium as students and faculty watched a video dramatizing how bad decisions regarding drinking and driving can turn deadly. The morning before, a mock car crash was staged on campus involving one drunk driver and several Freedom students who lost their lives.
The awareness-raising program, presented at schools all over the United States, featured a student-actor playing the drunk driver (who was incarcerated for a short time) plus a funeral and death notices issued to parents.
“I think it was really successful,” said Dana Johnson, Freedom’s activities director. “It becomes our job and our task to remind them. It definitely spoke to them. I think that the kids that were in it – they have a lasting effect.”
Johnston said the reaction from the student body was effective and immediate. The program was given shortly before Halloween, and Johnston learned of several students staying home to watch movies or hang out with friends instead of going out to parties.
Every 15 Minutes made a powerful impact on Freedom student Connor Nasty. The senior admitted that he once drove after drinking – luckily, no harm was done. Nasty said he seriously regretted that decision, noting that the Every 15 Minutes presentation opened his eyes.
“Seeing people experience it and the effect after it – it’s really breathtaking to look at what actually happens,” said Nasty, who read the eulogies at the mock funeral. “When you see the guy’s car, it’s pretty messed up. I was thinking of my friends; how it could’ve happened to them.”
After students watched a video recapping the crash and the simulated events that led up to it, motivational speaker Austin Whitney recounted how his own bad decision led to his life in a wheelchair.
At the age of 18, Whitney left a party while under the influence of alcohol and was involved in a serious accident. He spoke of how, like the students in the simulated crash, he seemed to have the world at his doorstep, about to head off to the University of Michigan to play lacrosse. The crash instantly snapped his youthful illusion of invincibility, he said, and showed him what’s really important in life.
“Every day, I feel so lucky to be here,” Whitney told the assembly.
Johnston said she and other staff members will examine the program to see what worked and what didn’t, and how they can put on a better event next time. She was impressed by the student speakers and the students who participated in the crash scene, such as senior Matt McKeen, who played the drunk driver. She was also grateful for the support from the Oakley Police Department and California Highway Patrol, two of the major organizing parties.
Senior Jimmy Ramirez, who was pronounced dead at the scene of the mock crash, said his mind turned to the other people in his life as he was placed into a body bag. “When I was being zipped up, I started thinking of random kids in my chemistry class,” he said. “You just think of those random things and what impression you left on that person and how unpredictable life is. … It taught me to value life more.”