Every 15 Minutes ...

On Wednesday morning of Dec. 8, Coronado High School (CHS) students left their classrooms to find a disturbing scene of a simulated traffic collision on Seventh Avenue involving four of their peers, a component of the California Highway Patrol program known as ‘Every 15 Minutes’ to prevent driving under the influence.

On Wednesday morning of Dec. 8, Coronado High School (CHS) students left their classrooms to find a disturbing scene of a simulated traffic collision on Seventh Avenue involving four of their peers, a component of the California Highway Patrol program known as ‘Every 15 Minutes’ to prevent driving under the influence.

Every 15 Minutes is a two-day long program designed for high school juniors and seniors, funded by a grant from the Office of Traffic Safety. According to law enforcement, every 15 minutes someone dies or is seriously injured due to an alcohol-related traffic collision. The program challenges students to look at this issue in an up close and personal way, immersing them in the collateral damage that driving under the influence causes, and calling on them to take responsibility for their personal safety, as well as the safety of others.

The traffic collision simulation involving four CHS students marked the beginning of the program. The crowd of students gathered around the scene on Seventh Avenue, their fellow-students involved in the crash smeared with fake blood and bruises, and one lying motionless on the hood of a car, depicting someone who had been ejected through a windshield, dead on arrival. First responders lead the scene: EMTs and firefighters attended to the students’ injuries, while the Police Department arrested the driver at fault.

After the simulated crash, students returned to their classrooms, where every 15 minutes, standout members of the junior and senior classes from all corners of campus were taken out of their classrooms. These students created the “living dead” that represent the people who are killed or seriously injured every 15 minutes by an alcohol-related traffic collision.

The following afternoon at CHS, students attended the “funeral” of the living dead. Students filed into the theater, where a coffin decorated with flowers stood below the stage, and a slideshow of childhood photos of the living dead played. Among the members of the living dead, Emily Kuite, who acted as the student dead on arrival at the scene of the crash, asserted that although the program was simulated, the emotions were quite real.

“It was a very educational, but also impactful program that showed that you can ruin so many people’s lives and your own life by making that choice,” said Kuite. “It’s not an accident, it’s a choice. Most people my age don’t think about those consequences.”

Kuite’s dad, Darin Kuite, who is a retired firefighter, was also highly involved in the program. “Throughout my kids’ lives, he said, “I’ve run calls on patients who were their age. It was emotional for me for sure. That was my main impetus for saying no at the beginning. What changed my mind was recognizing my job as a firefighter was also in prevention and community outreach. So I felt not only responsible, but strongly about doing it, and I saw how much my daughter was motivated to do it to help her classmates out. It’s a message of accountability and responsibility, and trying to put everyone else on this planet ahead of you.”

A video during the funeral narrated the simulated series of events from a party where students had been drinking, to the scene of the crash, to the hospital, the morgue, the police department, then the courthouse where the driver at fault received his sentence. Speakers also led the funeral, consisting of a parent who read a poignant letter to his son, who was among the living dead. Police and California Highway Patrol officers also shared their experiences as first responders to traffic collisions caused by DUI’s.

Among these officers was Highway Patrol Commander Captain Taylor Cooper, who cited that 4,000 teens are killed in traffic collisions every year. “If we can’t save your life,” he said, “our job is to clean up the pieces after it.” Another speaker, Deputy District Attorney Cally Bright, who handles cases regarding DUI fatalities, said that, “we look at each one of these cases now as a murder case.” 

“Make a plan,” said Deputy DA Bright. “Hopefully I will never have to see you on the other side of the courtroom.”

According to the Activities Director at CHS and Coordinator of the program, Nicole Belong, all of the contributors agreed to help the Associated Student Body (ASB) organize the program in a heartbeat, including the Coronado Fire Department, Coronado Police Department, Coronado Hospital, and California Highway Patrol.

“We have such strong, amazing relationships with the Coronado Police Department, the Fire Department, the city,” said Belong, “and they were all willing to say ‘absolutely we will help, no questions asked.’”

Belong expanded on the takeaways of the program saying, “I’m hopeful that parents, knowing that we had this program, will use it as an opportunity to talk with their kids about making a plan, and letting their kids know that they would pick them up from anywhere. This is a big deal. Our students’ lives are very important. These crashes are preventable. Knowing that they’re preventable, make a plan. Make sure you know how to get home.”

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