A mock 911 call interrupted classes at Newport Harbor High School on Monday morning.
Students filed out of class about 10:30 to see a simulated alcohol-related accident: two smashed cars, one overturned, with three of their classmates sprawled out on the asphalt, posing as victims.
A volunteer dressed as death, joined by students with faces painted white to represent past victims of drunken driving, looked on as police and paramedics joined the scene.
A few hundred students watched from the bleachers as first responders acted out procedures employed at DUI crash scenes as part of the Every 15 Minutes program, meant to warn teens about the dangers of drinking and driving.
"This is getting as close to reality as you can without seeing death," Newport Beach Deputy Police Chief David McGill said.
A grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration brought the program to the Newport-Mesa Unified School District as it does annually.
Members of the Newport Beach Police Department and other first responders from the Newport Beach Fire Department and the California Highway Patrol volunteered to work the mock scene, transporting patients covered in injuries created by makeup artists from Knott's Berry Farm.
After a field sobriety test, the driver was arrested while a hearse slowly pulled away with a victim inside.
The Every 15 Minutes program rotates among high schools in the district each year, school board trustee David Brooks said.
The retired Costa Mesa police captain said the program began at Estancia and Costa Mesa high schools while he was in the traffic division.
"It's one of those things that sounded good and turned out to be even better," he said.
The program spans two days, as it aims to drive home an emotional message.
Tuesday, during an assembly, students watched a video of victims being transported to the hospital and heard obituaries of classmates who were shuttled to a hotel to be kept away from family and friends in order to illustrate their mock deaths.
That second day is the most sobering, according to Brooks. "No pun intended," he said.
McGill said it's hard to gauge what long-term effect this has on students, but he believes it's worth the investment.
"If we change one kid's decision-making later on, then it's a success," he said.