Tragedies of drunk driving come alive with reenactment

Huntington Beach police and fire departments rushed out to 17th Street next to Huntington Beach High School on Wednesday morning after receiving a call that two cars were involved in a traffic accident, where a driver was believed to be under the influence of alcohol.

Authorities found two cars that sustained heavy damage: an overturned maroon sedan with the driver trapped inside and a silver sedan about 30 yards away, its front end smashed in and a body partially ejected through the front windshield.

A teenage female was found lying in the middle of the street, motionless and covered in blood after being ejected from the overturned vehicle. Bottles of beer were found in the other car, with the driver still conscious, an officer with a microphone said.

Students from the high school lined both sides of 17th Street and watched the reenactment of a DUI crash, a production put on by the Every 15 Minutes program.

A person dies every 15 minutes from an alcohol-related traffic accident, said Kristen Kaa, an English teacher at Huntington and one of the organizers of the program.

Each school in the district holds this event every four years to try and educate students about the dangers of drunk driving, Assistant Principal Jason Ross said.

"It's difficult because these kids think they're invincible," Kaa said. "They don't think it's ever going to happen to anyone that they know."

Kaa had help from Ross, Huntington Beach High PTSA President Gina Gleason, the local police and fire departments, CHP and a local mortuary, she said.

For the past three months, they have been organizing the three-day event, which included a parent meeting, the simulation and an assembly with guest speakers who have been affected by drunk drivers.


Parent meeting

Gleason was adamant about having a parent meeting and workshop prior to the staged accident after the City Council recently adopted a new social hosting ordinance, which would fine those who knowingly serve alcohol to underage partygoers.

"We thought a critical piece that would be missing from the Every 15 Minutes program was a parent piece, so that we could get every parent here to really be educated," she said. "We get so desensitized over time about what the issues are and how bad it really could be."

More than 300 parents gathered in the student center at Huntington Beach High on Tuesday night, with many parents having to stand in the back.

Parents flinched and moaned as they watched the video produced for Edison High School's Every 15 Minutes program, which included graphic scenes of glass shards sticking out of the students' bodies.

Some parents cried after Jenna Serna, a junior at Edison, spoke about her brother, Michael, who drove while intoxicated and was killed after losing control of his vehicle and hitting a metal pole.

"He made one last stupid decision and not only ruined his life, but put his friends and family through a never-ending nightmare," she said.

Representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Huntington Beach Police officers further encouraged parents to prevent drunk driving among their youth.

"I get called out in the middle of the night. The sergeant calls me and tells me we got one. I've handled triple fatals. That's why I don't go do these assemblies anymore," Officer Robert Barr said, who used to attend the reenactments. "I don't need to see this anymore. I've seen too much."

Resident Suzanne Wood, whose 18-year-old child attends Huntington, believes that the intended affects of the program will hit home for the children, and even she made a realization during the meeting.

"It's brought awareness, not just for underage drinking, but for all drinking," she said. "None of us should be drinking and driving, no matter what the age. This brought awareness to myself."


The morning of

Early Wednesday morning, a makeup team from Knott's Berry Farm applied prosthetic wounds on students participating in the simulated accident.

Olivia Ducharme, an 18-year-old senior, had fake cuts put on her face and arm before she was placed through the windshield of the silver vehicle later that morning.

"I've had family members struggle with alcohol and a couple weeks ago I ended up having to pick someone up who was drunk because they didn't have a good ride home," she said. "I feel very strongly against drunk driving. I'm one of those nerds that still wears those drug-free bracelets that they hand out every year."

Ducharme said she hasn't personally been affected by a DUI accident, but fears that she one day will be.

"There's nothing that scares me more," she said. "On the Fourth of July, I sit in my house and just hear all the ambulances go by, knowing it was drunk drivers and whatnot."

While the cast of the video were preparing for the reenactment, more than a dozen students were pulled out of their class, one every 15 minutes. These students represented the "living dead."

Officer Derek Young escorted his colleague Dave Wiederin, who was dressed in a grim reaper costume, to the classrooms and took a student. As they were taken away, another student in the program would read that "living dead's" obituary and placed a black cloth on their desk. They were then brought to a classroom, where they had their faces painted white and dressed in black.

As everyone in the program was preparing for the morning's event, coincidentally, a driver from Riverside was stopped for having open alcohol containers in their vehicle in the Huntington High parking lot, an officer said.

The officer said the driver was not intoxicated but the two passengers with him were. The beer was confiscated and the driver was cited.

Around 11:30 a.m., the student actors were put into position and soon after the student body lined 17th Street and the simulation began.

The 40-minute reenactment included a slew of police officers, firefighters and paramedics. A helicopter hovered overhead, as well.

The driver of the silver vehicle was given a sobriety test and after he failed it, police handcuffed him and took him to the Huntington Beach city jail.

Ducharme was placed on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital while the other female was put in a body bag, placed in a hearse and driven away.


'Don't let it be just a show'

Huntington Beach High students were shown the finished video Thursday morning, with the gym set up as a funeral service.

A casket was placed behind a podium where Principal Rocky Murray and other guest speakers talked about drunk driving.

"Fortunately, we're not doing this after someone has faced this for real," Murray said. "This is before. Don't let it happen. This is an educational piece we can control. We do not leave here today not letting this affect us. Otherwise, it's just a show. Don't let it be just a show."

One of two speakers included Janice LaChance, whose daughter was incarcerated after killing a 26-year-old woman while under the influence in 2009. Then 20-year-old Brittany Schuetz had a blood-alcohol level of 0.24%, three times the legal limit and is currently serving a sentence of 15 years to life in prison, LaChance said.

Students in the gym were shedding tears as LaChance told them about her daughter's story and the anguish she has gone through over the last three years.

"I don't want to see you guys in body bags. I don't want to see your faces in the news. I sure don't want to see you in prison," she said. "Please take that promise you made today seriously."

Twitter: @acocarpio

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