LEMOORE — There’s the scene of a car accident, drinking is a factor and local teenagers are involved. Cops are called, arrests are made, two people are taken to the hospital and one body is taken to the coroner’s office. Families are notified, funerals take place and a teenager is sentenced to 41 years in prison.
The whole scenario is a tragedy. Luckily, it’s a tragedy that is not real this time, but it is still something that could happen. This message rooted in reality is what drives the California Highway Patrol’s Every 15 Minutes program.
Every 15 Minutes is a reenactment of events surrounding a DUI car crash, said Officer John Tyler, Hanford CHP spokesman.
Tyler said this particular program affects students beyond the accidents they see on the television news because it involves their fellow students, people they know and see every day. Lemoore student actors play the roles of partying teenagers and innocent victims and a crash is reenacted. Everything is recorded on video for students to watch later.
The program started Thursday morning when “Grim Reapers” invaded Lemoore High School and plucked students from their classrooms every 15 minutes to symbolize that every 15 minutes someone dies from an alcohol-related collision.
Thursday afternoon, Lemoore High School juniors and seniors arrived at their stadium and witnessed a mock car accident scene taking place. The scene was complete with an emergency call, real police officers, firefighters, medics and other emergency personnel and vehicles, and even a helicopter that flew an injured student to the hospital.
The program ended Friday morning when students sat in the school’s event center and watched the video of the events leading up to the crash and the aftermath of the crash, including the driver being booked into jail and the families being notified that their children are dead. Students also got to watch a mock funeral for two students and mock trial for one student.
The families of the two students who “died” read emotional eulogies and the two students were heard over speakers saying their own emotional goodbyes to their families. Students in the audience were visibly moved and some even shed tears.
Sami Chedester played the “drunken driver” who was the cause of the accident. She said the experience felt so real, in her mind she was going to jail for her actions. She said the whole process was emotionally draining, but eye-opening.
“I learned so much from this,” Sami said. “I feel like I impacted lives, honestly.”
Samantha’s parents, Jeff and Tina Chedester, said the whole situation felt very real to them, and it made them think about how it could happen in real life.
“I didn’t realize how emotional I was going to become,” Jeff Chedester said. “I just thought it was going to be something easy to sit through, but it was difficult and so real to life that it hit home to me.”
“Unfortunately, this happens all the time,” Tina Chedester said. “I think [the program] impacted all the kids.”
The Chedesters both believe having the Every 15 Minutes program will save many lives because it will make the teenagers think twice before drinking and getting behind the wheel of a car. They said as they looked out into the audience and saw some student crying and getting emotional, they knew the students understood the seriousness of the situation.
Jeff Chedester said he was glad the school did this program for the students because it showed that they really care about their students and he thanked them for all the hard work they did and the time each agency put into the program.
Along with the CHP and the school, other agencies who helped put the program together were the city of Lemoore, Lemoore Police Department, Lemoore Fire Department, Kings County Sheriff’s Office, Kings County District Attorney’s Office, Kings County Coroner’s Office and Whitehurst Funeral.
“The student participants were deeply touched and several said that this program has changed their lives, which is super encouraging to hear,” activities adviser and program coordinator Anne Strong said.
Principal Rodney Brumit said he thought this was the best program the school had put together thus far because the parents put themselves out there emotionally and because the attorneys were great at relaying how a bad decision can ruin lives.
“I think anybody in that room that said they weren’t affected is lying,” CHP spokesman Tyler said. “It was very powerful and we truly saved a lot of lives. This class is going to remember this for the rest of their lives.”