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Every choice matters

Chana, Maidu teens learn impact of decisions
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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A Chana High School teen died in a drunk driving accident, the news story would have read. Another student of the continuation school was arrested on driving under the influence of alcohol. Yet another died on an emergency room table and a fourth was struggling for life in the hospital before dying as a result of a drunk-driving accident - but not today. Wednesday morning, Chana and Maidu high school students caught a glimpse into what would have been when local law enforcement and emergency responders simulated a fatal vehicle accident as part of the Every 15 Minutes program. The national program aims to educate teens about real-life risks, including simulating the widespread impacts of alcohol-related deaths. It was the first time in the continuation school’s history that the program took place at their school and involved their students, according to California Highway Patrol spokeswoman Kelly Baraga. “This is the first time we’ve actually ever done this program at a continuation school in Placer County,” Baraga said. “I think a lot of them feel they miss out on the cool things at other high schools.” Chana High School seniors Tatiana Martinez, 17, and Jennifer Valdez, 18, who spent six months organizing the program at their school as part of their senior project, approached Baraga. Martinez said she was disappointed to see some of her peers not take the accident seriously, but noticed others took it to heart. “I think the scene was really good but for some students it still hasn’t hit them,” Martinez said. On a clear morning, students gathered on the Regional Park field across from the school. There, they saw two wrecked vehicles with one of their classmates sprawled out motionless on top of the hood of a car, covered in what appeared to be blood. A law enforcement officer’s voice crackled over a loud speaker, “Breaker 100 vehicle accident at Chana High School, let’s roll.” Sounds of ambulance and patrol car sirens pierced through the air as the vehicles approached the accident site. Soon a team of emergency responders swarmed the site. One team pulled an unconscious teen out of the car hit by the drunk driver while two firemen revved up the Jaws of Life to free the passenger. Students watched as crews strapped their classmates to gurneys and whisked them away in ambulances and, in the case of one student, in the coroner’s hearse. Baraga said she was pleased to see many of the students closely watching the activity. “The cool thing is you look around and everyone is watching,” Baraga said. “Hopefully it gets to them and makes them think about the choices they make about drinking and driving.” For one Maidu High School senior, the scene was particularly hard to watch. Olivia Shelton said she knew a friend who was in an accident similar to the one simulated at the school Wednesday. “This was hard to come here and watch it,” Shelton said. “When you watch your best friend get put into a bag, it’s hard to keep calm.” She said she hopes fellow students take the simulation seriously. “It can really happen in the blink of an eye,” Shelton said. Once the injured students were removed, a California Highway Patrol officer interviewed the driver, who was the only conscious person involved in the accident. The officer conducted several field sobriety tests with the driver and then had the teen breathe into a Breathalyzer. He then handcuffed the teen and escorted him into a patrol car. Maidu senior Delanie Ausnow was also watching the scene unfold. Afterward, she said she thought the presentation was powerful. “It’s really eye-opening,” Ausnow said. “You always think it will never happen to you or anyone close to you and when it does, it’s terrible.” Valdez said that student teams were at the hospital, jail and morgue to videotape the real aftermath of a drunk driving accident. On Thursday, students will re-watch the entire accident and aftermath during an assembly. Martinez said the accident recreation had a strong impact on her. “I think that life is precious and you shouldn’t put anybody in that situation,” Martinez said. “It’s so real. I don’t want to be in that place.” The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment.