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Every 15 Minutes teaches teens about drunken driving consequences

By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal staff writer
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Placer High School got quite the wake-up call Monday morning. Seated in the stands at Le Febvre Stadium, Auburn teens watched the consequences of drunk driving unfolded before their eyes as students, local law enforcement and first-responders all kicked off Every 15 Minutes. The two-day program, designed to teach high-schoolers the consequences of drinking and driving, started off with a simulated car crash involving five Placer High students and two mangled vehicles. The stands went quiet as volunteers pulled back a tarp to reveal the Subaru wagon and a black Ford. Senior Seth Parrish stumbled out of the driver’s seat of the Subaru, a Budweiser can tumbling out as he assessed the scene. His friend and passenger, junior Blake Prior, laid lifeless, bloody and face down on the hood of the car. “Are you OK? Wake up!” Parrish said, peering into the broken windows of the Ford, in which driver Brianna Loughlin and her passengers Chloe Romero and Danielle Ferretti were initially non-responsive. In the span of an hour, local law enforcement and first-responders reported to the scene, showing students the gory details of a DUI crash — sobriety testing and later, an arrest for the driver, transportation for two crash victims, one by helicopter and the other by ambulance. Prior was declared dead at the scene, his body covered by a yellow tarp and later taken to the morgue. Watching the scene unfold was too much for some students, who could be seen and heard crying. Gary Pantaleoni, Placer High assistant principal and Every 15 Minutes “grim reaper,” had to pause a couple times while reading an obituary written by Prior’s family. “For all of us, life without you seems unbearable,” Pantaleoni said, his voice wavering. “We are all broken from this tragedy.” Placer senior Destinee Scott remembers the last time Every 15 Minutes came to Placer High, when she was a freshman. It was just as eye-opening this time around, she said. “It was really gruesome, the blood and the cars,” she said. Sophomore Tierra Schroeder said the simulation seemed pretty realistic. “You put yourself in that place — it could be you,” she said. “It’s so emotional. It puts you in a spot that’s so real.” Senior Sara Daugherty said experiencing Every 15 Minutes as a freshman made an impression at the time, and that she didn’t want to drink or be around those who drink. This time around had a similar impact. “It not only tells you, don’t do it, but it shows you what happens,” she said. Ferretti, the back-seat passenger in the Ford, remembers Every 15 Minutes from her freshman year. “It wasn’t as real then, because I didn’t even drive,” she said. This time around, being old enough to drive, and of course being in one of the cars involved in the “crash” really hit Ferretti. “From where I was, I could see Blake, and Chloe in the mirror,” she said. “It was really scary.” Kelly Baraga, California Highway Patrol school resource officer, said targeting teens is important as they and their friends become licensed drivers. “We want them to think twice about getting into a car with someone who has been drinking, or if they’ve been drinking,” she said. “We want to bring the real story, that this is what really happens.” Gary Hopping, Auburn Police Department school resource officer, shared a similar thought. “Hopefully they see it and they can internalize it, that this is a real person, injury and death as a result of drinking and driving,” he said. “We can tell them until we’re blue in the face but if they can see it, not only the death and the injury but also the arrest, it gets them in the heart.” It’s not just students that are affected by this program. Pantaleoni said although this was the fourth time he’s experienced Every 15 Minutes at Placer High, it doesn’t lessen the impact one bit. “It still becomes too real,” he said. “Every time I’m out there doing those obituaries, it’s very real.” Every 15 Minutes didn’t stop with the Monday morning crash simulation. The roles students played during the crash didn’t end when they left the field. Parrish was taken to the Placer County jail to undergo booking. And Prior was transported to the Placer County morgue. “They put a toe tag on me,” he said, after returning to school. Pantaleoni spent Monday pulling a student from class every 15 minutes, placing a flower on their desk to symbolize another death. After a student “died,” they were taken to the school library, their face painted to symbolize death. “They’re dead. They don’t go back to class, they don’t go home,” Pantaleoni said. The students involved in Monday’s simulated crash, along with those who “died” Monday, were all scheduled to participate in a retreat Monday night, with their parents participating in a similar-but-separate retreat as well, Pantaleoni said. The program concludes with an all-school assembly Tuesday morning. Prior, who, like other “Every 15 Minutes” students, reported to the school library after “dying” Monday, said he appreciated being a part of the program. “I think with the student body going out to watch it, it affects everybody. One of their friends could die, and even if it’s not their friend, they still know them,” he said. “I think that if it affects even a couple people then it’s a good experience.” The Journal’s Loryll Nicolaisen can be reached at lorylln@goldcountrymedia.com.