Raw emotion, realism at ‘Every 15 Minutes’
Impact of distracted driving hammered home to students in two-day event at Rancho Cotate High
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By Dave Williams  October 11, 2013 12:00 am

Emotions ran at an elevated level at Rancho Cotate High on Monday with the elaborate staging of “Every 15 Minutes.”

The two-day production simulated a fatal automobile crash resulting from teens who were either driving drunk, using drugs or driving distracted (talking on their cell phones or texting while operating a car). 

“Every 15 Minutes” takes place once every four years at a high school campus to drive home the gravity of distracted or drunken driving to each student. 

During the first day events the “Grim Reaper” calls students who have been selected from a cross section of the entire student body out of class. One student is removed from class every 15 minutes. A police officer will immediately enter the classroom to read an obituary which has been written by the “dead” student's parent or parents, explaining the circumstances of their classmate's demise and the contributions the student has made to the school and the community. A few minutes later, the student will return to class as the “living dead,” complete with white face makeup, a coroner's tag, and a black Every 15 Minutes T-shirt. From that point on “victims” will not speak or interact with other students for the remainder of the school day. 

The program included obituaries read in class, the vacant seats of students who are missing because of the accident and finally a mock funeral in the gymnasium where students also watch a video of the entire tragic incident.

Also, death notices were sent to the parents of 31 students who didn’t show up for school on Oct. 7. The parents who received death notices were aware of the fact this was a simulated exercise but some were still emotionally shaken. The intent was to have each student understand how everyone can be affected by a tragic crash. And it got the desired result, as several students were shed tears during the mock funeral.

Film crews captured the crash scene and the response of emergency teams. Students who played the role of victims were made up in blood, bruises and cuts. Film crews also followed parents to the morgue viewing room, to the emergency room at Kaiser Permanente, to Sonoma County Jail and finally the Sonoma County Superior Court.

Rancho Cotate senior Derek Hammonds played the role of the teen driver who was arraigned for felony DUI because of the death of two classmates. On Oct. 8, the Rancho Cotate student body watched the video.

The California Office of Traffic Safety provided $10,000 through a grant to fund “Every 15 Minutes.” The leading causes of death among teens are automobile crashes.

The Rancho Cotate students heard speakers impacted by drunk drivers and they also listened as emergency responders spoke about crashes involving teens.

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