Hannah Fugazzi’s cries were the only thing that could be heard as emergency workers moved feverishly yet precisely to free the Liberty High School student from a mangled car which had been struck head-on by a drunk driver. Her pleas for help sounded genuine, but it was all part of Every 15 Minutes, a national program that teaches students about the risks of drinking and driving. National statistics show that someone is killed or seriously injured in an alcohol-related car accident every 15 minutes.
No detail was spared during the live enactment. Local rescue agencies were recruited to create the most vivid scared-straight program students could possibly experience without going through the real thing. The process of organizing and coordinating an Every 15 Minutes takes months.
The simulation, which took place at Liberty High School last Thursday, was treated like a real auto accident. Police officers were on the scene within minutes, followed by local firefighters, paramedics and county coroners. Fugazzi’s “injuries” were deemed severe, and she was airlifted to a local hospital by California Shock Trauma Air Rescue, whose helicopter landed on the soccer field near the crash scene.
As the flurry of activity unfolded, Liberty juniors and seniors watched from the sidelines as Homecoming King Ben Custodio, who was in the car with Fugazzi, was cared for and taken off the field by ambulance, and Caitlin Nunes, who was pronounced dead at the scene, was zipped into a body bag. Drunk driver Matt Carabello was arrested and taken to a cell at the Brentwood police station.
Following the crash, students in the audience were released to their classes and the day resumed as usual, but students were in for a second rude awakening the next day, when Every 15 Minutes continued with a mock funeral for the 26 students who were “killed” the day before. On Friday, a casket rested at the center of the gym as members of the living dead sat on one side and their families on the other. A video showing highlights of the crash was played for the parents, followed by aftermath coverage the students didn’t see the day before. Police officers went to the home of Nunes’ mother, who went to the morgue to identify her daughter’s body. The family of Fugazzi were notified of the accident and told that she died at the hospital.
As the coverage came to an end, a montage of photos flashed across the screen. In each photo, the student representing the living dead was digitally removed from each photo, leaving gaping holes in family portraits and candid snapshots. Students passed boxes of tissue around the gym as they watched their friends and classmates fade away as Christina Perri’s “The Lonely” blared through the gym, providing a haunting soundtrack to the nightmarish scenario.
As part of the Every 15 Minutes exercise, students representing the living dead were asked to write letters to their loved ones as a final goodbye.
“I want to say thank you for everything that you’ve done. I am so grateful,” Riley Ruano read, desperately trying to maintain his composure and finish reading the letter for the audience without breaking down in tears. “I never ever want you to think you weren’t good enough. I couldn’t have asked for better parents.”
Unlike members of the living dead, guest speaker Wendy Reynolds didn’t get a chance to tell her parents goodbye. She didn’t have one last chance to tell them she loved them. Her parents and her baby sister were killed in a car accident involving a drunk driver when she was 5. Miraculously, Reynolds, a Walnut Creek resident, survived the crash, and today, shares her story at high schools throughout the Bay Area, explaining the dark reality that results from drinking and driving.
“You know your parents would much rather get a call from you than a call from the hospital saying ‘get down here right now.’ They want to come pick you up. I guarantee they would rather come pick you up (from a party) than have to go ID your body at the morgue.”
For more information about Every 15 Minutes, visit www.every15minutes.com.