The season of spring brings many things to high school students: graduation, the senior prom, and unfortunately in too many communities, the tragic death of teenagers as a result of the deadly combination of youth and alcohol.
As part of an effort to make students aware of the risks of drinking and driving, Biggs High School was the site of the “Every 15 Minutes” program. The program is named after the former statistical average that every 15 minutes in the United States a life is claimed as the result of drinking and driving. Since the program has started, that average is now around every 40 minutes.
The program brought together a coalition of volunteers from law enforcement agencies, the fire department, the hospital, the mortuary and many others with the goal of reducing alcohol-related incidents among youth. The two-day Every 15 Minutes program is very dramatic and emotional-and purposely so. Teenagers are constantly reminded about the choices they have to make involving alcohol and how many others are affected by their decisions. They know the intellectual statistics. However, many teens share the belief it will never happen to them.
Throughout the day, students were taken from class to participate in the “living dead”—a group of students who were kept overnight away from everyone else. On Wednesday, an accident was staged with demolished vehicles placed on Second Street in front of the Biggs High School campus. Students were dressed and made up to look as if they had sustained injuries in the accident.
Emergency personnel arrived at the scene, with lights and sirens, while deputies from the Butte County Sheriff's Department and officers from the Gridley-Biggs Police Department arrested the student portraying a drunk driver as the rest of the student body watched. Firemen and paramedics cared for the “victims”, while the grim reaper looked to claim his next target—followed by a line of the “living dead” behind him. As the student body watched, they witnessed their own peers being arrested, laying on the ground covered in blood, taken in an ambulance, and even put in a body bag and taken to the mortuary.
The students who “died” or were in the living dead were kept away from everyone overnight, where they would participate in a variety of activities—one of which included writing a letter to loved ones as if they had really died. These emotional letters, read the following day at an assembly, discussed what the students wish they would have told their loved ones if they had the chance to.
The day of the accident, a police officer was sent to the house of the victim to give his or her parents a mock death notification—a staged, yet emotional event.
On Thursday, there was an assembly at which the “living dead” and their parents came out to read their “good-bye” letters. The parents of the victims gave a eulogy at the mock funeral for their children, followed by the emotional letters by the students who were “killed” in the accident. After they heard their parents' eulogies, Biggs' students Johnny Jackson and Chance Felkins read emotional letters to their families. This was a time of emotion and reality as many students and family members caught a glimpse of how close and painful death can be.
Page 2 of 2 - Jill and Steve Elliot, of Orland, also came to the assembly as guest speakers. Jill told the crowd about her daughter Rachel, who graduated from Orland High School in 2007 before moving to Southern California to attend UC Irvine. Jill talked about how her daughter had participated in the Every 15 Minutes program her senior year and got to play the “victim”. She spoke about how emotional it was to see the police vehicle pull up and knock on their door to give them a mock death notification. Jill said that although she was expecting the visit, it was one of the most emotional things she ever had to do. Eight months later, another police officer came to the Eliott's door to make another death notification—this time it was real. In February 2008, at the age of 18, Rachel was killed by a drunk driver in a head-on collision in Southern California.