Students stage DUI accident

The twisted wreckage and injured bodies strewn across Ramsdell Avenue in La Crescenta Thursday was a nightmare realized for any community. And as hundreds of Crescenta Valley High School students gathered to take in the staged traffic accident, the graphic lesson about the dangers of driving under the influence seemed to be hitting its mark.

“I think it is an important message to send,” said Kaja Sondergaard, 16, who played an accident victim. “I know some people don’t take it seriously, but I think this is a good program to really shock people into realizing that what they are doing can affect people’s lives.”

The scene kicked off “Every 15 Minutes,” an elaborate, two-day program designed to educate teenagers across the country about the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In recent years, it has been expanded to also address texting while behind the wheel.

Los Angeles County sheriff and California Highway Patrol officials have collaborated to put on the program at Crescenta Valley High School every other year for the last eight years, CHP Officer Ming Hsu said.

This year, more than 40 students worked with school and public safety officials to conceptualize and stage a realistic scenario. On Thursday, victims were attended to by Los Angeles County firefighters, while the alleged drunk driver was “administered” a field sobriety test, handcuffed and booked at Los Angeles County Superior Court in Glendale.

Participants were sequestered from their family members and friends overnight Thursday, with a mock memorial service scheduled for today — all of which was meant to simulate what it would be like for the community to lose teenagers in a fatal accident.

“The students who are really impacted are the ones who are involved in the scene,” Principal Michelle Doll said. “It becomes very emotional for the families, and the kids themselves.”

The program, as well as other anti-drunk driving efforts, are having an impact, officials say.

When it launched in the 1990s, “Every 15 Minutes” was a reference to the rate at which someone in the United States was injured or killed in a drunk driving-related accident, Hsu said.

“I believe last year’s stats were closer to 24 minutes,” Hsu said. “It is increasing more with all the education we have out there. Crescenta Valley High has been really, really supportive of this.”

The staged traffic accident and memorial service pack more of a punch than a traditional assembly, students said.

“I definitely think that more of an experience is definitely worth having and showing the student body,” said Parker Griffin, 16, who also played a crash victim.

Officials said that while students know the characters in the scenario are acting, they hope that it still provokes them to think about poor decisions and their consequences.

“We just need one kid to go home with the message,” Hsu said. “If we can save that one life, that is all we are hoping for.”

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