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Mock car crash packs an emotional punch

Mock car crash packs an emotional punch
Edison's Dylan Alcantara plays a deceased teen in simulated car crash during an Every Fifteen Minutes presentation on March 23 on campus. (Drew A. Kelly / HB Independent)

Summer Banks texted her mom from Edison High School last week, sounding frantic after witnessing the aftermath of what seemed like an accident caused by a drunk driver.

Although Summer was actually viewing a simulation March 23 as part of the Every 15 Minutes Program, which through its set pieces and enactments aims to spread awareness of the dangers driving while impaired, the crash scene at the Huntington Beach school seemed very real.

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The hoods of the two cars involved were crunched like accordions. Fake blood covered the pavement. The "drunk driver" was placed in handcuffs and taken away in a cop car. One girl, the passenger in the white car hit by the drunk driver, was "unconscious" at the scene. And a boy, whose body lay lifeless on the pavement, his face appearing bloodied, was put in a body bag.

Summer, who knew it was a mock crash, nonetheless was shocked by the sight and wondered, as she became absorbed in the storyline, if the two innocent girls in the white sedan would survive or be declared "dead."

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"I do wish they make it out alive," said the 14-year-old freshman. "They weren't under the influence so they don't deserve that. No one does. They looked pretty injured and unconscious, but I think that they will make it out OK."

Every 15 Minutes, which originated in Canada and was introduced in California in 1995, comes to the Huntington Beach Union High School District each year, rotating among the district's four schools.

Besides the 40-minute accident simulation, every 15 minutes that day, a student was taken by the grim reaper from class to have his or her face painted white to appear ghostly, marking the program's message that every 15 minutes, someone dies as a result of drunk driving.

More than a dozen students were taken away and black cloths placed over their desks, symbolizing their deaths.

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Following the event, students were encouraged to think of the consequences of drunk driving, and the parents of the kids involved in the crash were instructed to write obituaries for their children.

Regina Alcantara watched from the bleachers set up for the event as her 17-year-old son, Dylan, was placed in a body bag.

"You know it's pretend," Alcantara said. "You know it's just makeup. The possibility of it becoming so real is still there. I hope these kids understand the impact that drunk driving can make on a parent. Even though today is fake, it could possibly happen in an instant to any one of them, and their parents could have to deal with a real-life situation."

She said that while she knew Dylan was going to "die" in the mock crash, she wasn't prepared for how it would affect her emotionally. She also said writing Dylan's obituary was one of the hardest things she's ever had to do.

"I didn't think I'd cry, though I found myself with tears," she said. "I was sitting here, and a family friend was in the stands texting me, saying, 'I know this is only a simulation, but it is so powerful to know that a family friend is laying on the pavement right in front of me.' That just spoke volumes of how this can affect everybody."

Jennifer Graves, assistant principal at the high school, knows firsthand the effects of drunk driving.

At 18, just after starting her first semester of college, Graves' vehicle was hit by a drunk driver and exploded, causing burns over 70% of her body.

"I had a 30% chance to live," she said. "I tell my students my story because I want them to know this can happen to anybody."

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At an assembly the next day, Summer and the rest of the students found out the fate of the people involved in the mock crash.

The passenger of the white car didn't make it.

A video showing Wednesday's simulation and its aftermath revealed that Kiana Pancino "died" in the hospital with her mother and father by her side.

Mayor Jim Katapodis, told the assembled students that the statistics have gotten somewhat better. He said fatal accidents involving impaired driving occur every 53 minutes now, instead of every 15 minutes, but "that's still not acceptable."

After the assembly, Pancino said she hopes the Every 15 Minutes experience was eye-opening for the students.

"I've had two family members die due to drunk and distracted driving," the 18-year-old senior said. "To be a part of it was really hard. ... For me, the hardest part was just laying on the hospital table and hearing my parents cry over me."

Huntington Beach police Capt. David Bunetta cited prescription drugs and texting as driving dangers in addition to alcohol. The Police Department helps sponsor the Every 15 Minutes Program.

He said in 2015 in Huntington Beach, 1,000 people were arrested for driving under the influence, and of the 16 traffic fatalities that year, 10 were a result of someone driving under the influence.

Summer said the message resonated with her and she hoped the presentation would make her peers also think about the consequences of drunk driving.

"Today with our advanced technology, we have apps that order us cars that we can take anywhere we want," she said. "That is better than drunk driving and putting not only yours but other innocent people's lives in danger. I really wish people would pay more attention to this."

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