A lesson in drinking and death
by Denise Ellen Rizzo and Kate Brown
Apr 04, 2014 | 7587 views | 0 0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A sobering lesson
A Tracy police officer photographs the scene of a simulated drunken driving accident in front of West High School during the Every 15 Minutes program Thursday morning.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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A sobering reminder of the dangers of drinking and driving played out in front of 1,000 West High School students Thursday morning.

The Every 15 Minutes program staged a mock alcohol-related accident with students portraying accident victims from all walks of life and first responders who played out a realistic demonstration of what happens at the scene of a crash.

The goal of the event, which is sponsored by the California Highway Patrol through a $10,000 grant from the Office of Traffic and Safety, is to teach the consequences of drinking and driving.

“If one kid lives because of this, we did our job,” West activities director Shauna Baker said. “It’s worth it.”

Senior Brittany Diaz said she was thrilled when she learned she was going to portray the drunken driver in the mock crash involving two cars of student performers.

“I’m against drinking and driving and I wanted to make a difference,” she said. “I am happy they chose me. I felt special that I can set an example for everyone.”

As the cause of the crash, Diaz said beforehand that she knew she would be acting, but she was already feeling emotional knowing her actions injured friends and killed classmate Shelby Weeks.

Weeks, who knew someone in the Every 15 Minutes crash last year, said the idea of losing a friend scared her.

“It hit me hard,” she said. “That’s what I’m hoping for from the students (watching). I think it takes just one thing for them to realize that this is bad, that this can kill you.”

As the head-on-collision played out in the school’s bus turnaround at 1775 W. Lowell Ave., a girl’s scream shattered the silence.

White smoke billowed from under the hood of Diaz’s car as students dripping blood with varying injuries stumbled out of the two cars. A call to 911 could be heard over a loudspeaker.

The most sobering part of the scene was the sight of Weeks, who was now lying halfway out of the car she was driving, dead at the scene.

A girl watching from the crowd of onlookers was overheard saying, “Oh my God, this is crazy. It seems so real.”

As Diaz repeatedly said “I’m sorry” and walked around the crash crying, other students in the accident seemed dazed. One girl grabbed the containers of alcohol that had spilled out of Diaz’s car and began throwing them off the roadway, saying, “Everybody get rid of this, we’re going to get arrested.”

Local first responders also played their part in the reenactment. Sirens filled the air as Tracy firefighters arrived, followed by Tracy police officers and American Medical Response ambulance crews.

Although in recent years the event has been played out for the senior class, Principal Troy Brown said he wanted it seen by both juniors and seniors this year.

“We wanted to reach more,” he said. “Get them out to see it. They’re going to prom next week, and this is a great time (to do it).”

At the conclusion of the event, students talked about what they saw and felt.

“Students are going to be students, kids will be kids,” junior Marquell Reed said. “They have to do something so they can learn. Everyone learns from mistakes. It might help a little bit, though. I don’t drink, so — I’m good. I’ve tried it before, I ain’t gonna lie, but I don’t drink. It ain’t me.”

Senior Judy Huang said she liked the realism.

“It really seemed real,” she said. “This is happening somewhere else right now. I thought you shouldn’t trust someone if they say they are sober when you know their history of drinking.”

Alejandra Moya, who graduated from West High in 2013, said she participated in the mock accident during her senior year and she felt it made an impact.

“Acting it out, it’s so real. It made me think about what I was doing,” she said. “It was like a reality check. It’s good, because it makes the kids realize what can happen if they drink and drive.”

• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at drizzo@tracypress.com or 830-4225.

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