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Accident Re-Enactment Warns Students Against Drinking and Driving


On a typical day, 50 people are killed in the United States in alcohol-related accidents. Law enforcement authorities and local officials are working to get out the message that drinking and driving are a lethal mixture. An educational program is taking that message to the schools in a dramatic way.

At Thousands Oaks High School in suburban Los Angeles, parents and teachers have teamed up with the local sheriff's office and a company called American Medical Response to show the tragic results of drunken driving.

On the quiet street beside the school, a police officer crashes an old car into another.

No one is hurt. It is all part of a demonstration to show the kind of accident that happens all too often. Ventura County Deputy Sheriff Laura Natoli says, even this quiet community has seen many like it.

"This is a realistic scenario," she says. "In fact, we had one this morning that was probably worse than this. There was a van going down the road, and somebody broadsided it and flipped the van over. We have major accidents on a weekly basis."

Such crashes can be deadly. Student volunteers enter the demonstration cars, where they are sprinkled with red liquid to resemble accident victims.

Police officers and firefighters arrive on the scene, and work to release the students from the damaged vehicles.

Two of the student volunteers are pronounced "dead" at the scene of the re-enactment, and two others are said to be injured. One, in this scenario, will die at the hospital.

On the other side of the campus, a hooded man dressed in black, depicting the "grim reaper," a mythical figure representing death, enters a classroom to take away a student. One youngster is removed from every classroom. A police officer reads a eulogy written by the parents of one of them.

Officer: "Our Natalie Jane was suddenly taken up to heaven on the morning of December 2nd, 2004, as she was struck by a car driven by a driver under the influence of alcohol ..."

The students selected to symbolically leave their classrooms in death become involved in a role-playing exercise. The teenagers, dressed in black, have their faces covered with a ghoulish theatrical makeup. Mike Reynolds of American Medical Response says they are at the heart of this imaginary drama.

"Once the crash is over, they then have a series of visits that take place," he explains. "They may go visit the sheriff's department and have a look around there, look at the jail. They may go to the hospital and have a look in the emergency room. They may go to a morgue and have a look there."

They may visit a traffic court, where a judge conducts a mock trial for the drunk driver.

Later, the students meet in one location and the parents in another. The role-playing continues, as the students express their regret, and mothers and fathers express their feelings of grief.

Senior student Pierce Timpson took part in a similar exercise when the program was last held at this school two-years ago.

"I was the victim driver in the second vehicle, and I was dead on arrival," he says. "And I had to spend about 45 minutes under a sheet, and in a body bag."

He says it was just play-acting, but the drama had an impact.

"Definitely, it had an impact on me and all my friends, because they take you away for the night, and you do not have any contact with any family or friends. So, it is pretty real," he adds.

Parent Danette Kwiatkowski is helping run the program, and says that, for the parents, the drama seems all too real.

"The tears well up off-and-on throughout the event, depending on what's going on," she notes. "Especially as a parent, you just have such empathy for what is going on, and you imagine, what would it be like if it happened to my child?"

Mike Reynolds says the educational program is called "Every 15 Minutes," because, when it started 10 years ago, there was an alcohol-related traffic death in the United States each 15 minutes. He says the name is still used, but is really inappropriate, because programs like this have reduced the number of alcohol-linked traffic deaths to one every 28 minutes. He says that is important progress in the fight against drunk driving.

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