The silence was squelched with the crackle of a dispatcher calling out a faux drunk driving accident near the school.
The covers were pulled off a small pickup truck and a passenger car, revealing a gnarled mess and bloody bodies strewn about that represented what a drunk driving accident may look like. This accident looked real, were it not for the fact it was sitting on the community track in the stadium for all upperclassman to see.
As real as it appeared, the scene was an act organized by Eddie Thompson, a volunteer firefighter Captain. Staged by the dozens were real-life emergency responders, meant to show Patterson High students what could happen when someone drinks and drives.
The event, offered in conjunction with the national Every 15 Minutes campaign, was a 45-minute lesson, as high school juniors and seniors witnessed the horror of an alcohol-involved, multiple-fatality car crash.
The program is named Every 15 Minutes because, on average, a person dies in the United States once every 15 minutes as a result of an alcohol-related auto accident, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The program is presented to Patterson High School students every two years, and similar programs appear at high schools around the state with the help of local public safety agencies and the California Highway Patrol.
The Grim Reaper could be seen lurking nearby as Patterson student Sierrah Liel lay seemingly lifeless on the hood of a car as if she had gone through the windshield during the collision.
Senior Avion Warmsley, who was playing the part of the drunk driver, tried to get her to wake up. He was eventually placed in the back of a police cruiser and later “arrested” for vehicular manslaughter while drunk driving.
Firefighters hurried to cut the pickup away from Alexandra Rubio inside.
A Medi-flight helicopter landed in a nearby field and Shealyn Craven was whisked away to an area hospital. She would later die as part of the drill. Rubio would be taken away by ground ambulance.
It was a stark reminder of the perils of drunk driving.
If you drive drunk, “You can take someone’s kids away from them,” Oscar Calderon, who was one of the ‘living dead’ at the scene said. “You can ruin others lives and your own.”
It struck a large chord with a few that took part.
Deonte West said his 19 year-old brother was killed in a drunk driving accident in South San Francisco in 2005. West said he had already learned the perils of driving drunk but wanted others to know how important it was to avoid.
“I think this is effective,” West said of the program. “You can take from it and apply it to the real world.”
Though some kids were affected more than others, with prom for the high school set for this weekend, the most important thing was that it had an effect.
“It evokes emotions when you see your peers like that,” he said. “It could happen to you.”
Nick Rappley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-568-9975.