Under the Hood: Inside Every 15 Minutes

Shane Battis, Business Manager

Earlier this week, upperclassmen witnessed the chilling return of the Every 15 Minutes program on campus where student drivers were brought face to face with real life consequences drinking and driving so often elicits. Though the grueling prom night mock crash and assembly certainly delivered an emotional blow to onlookers, the 26 participants had much more waiting for them in their “afterlife,” prior to “resurrection” the following day. To observe and report the full experience of participating in the multi-dimensional simulation, The Express inserted me into the thick of it all.

It was 9:40am when the Grim Reaper appeared in the doorway of my startled second period class. Cloaked in black and armed with an over sized scythe, the summoner said only “Shane Battis,” and I was officially cut off from my family and friends joining my “deceased” peers, as well as English teacher, Ryan Schreiber, in the quarantined ASB room.

Obituaries, written by parents, were read to classes following each participants’ departure. This angle of the program directly plugged parents into Every 15 by walking them through what it would be like to lose their child.

Gripping black roses, donned in matching black shirts, we marched silently to the scene of the mock crash careful to avoid acknowledging any students so as to maintain the illusion of ghostly despondency. For those who who acted out the bloody DUI, stepping behind the wheel of the wreckage was no joy ride. Brad Kremer (buzzed driver) says, “It was too real” and that even though he knew it was all staged, he still felt like the anger directed towards him from collision survivors was genuine.

After the smoke cleared and sirens faded in the distance, we returned to the ASB room soon followed by the mock crash participants where we waited for subsequent reaper victims to shuffle in throughout the day. Spending so much time as a newly forged family lightened the mood as we bonded over our shared experience and nearly unlimited free food for hours. By 6:00pm we had arrived at the Lake Forest Holiday Inn accompanied by ASB Director Brooke Valderrama and two Orange County policemen: Public Information Officer Aaron Rothberg and Officer Eric Barnard.

The evening retreat was far from a pool day. Gathered in the hotel conference room, the group listened to first hand accounts of horrific DUI collisions related by the two officers as well as guest speaker Billy Shelly–crusader against reckless driving after his older brother was killed by an 18 year old girl drag racing another Mustang under the influence of drugs and alcohol in 2001. Officer Barnard, realistic in his expectations of underage drinkers, urged us to avoid alcohol, but more importantly, to avoid making the second bad decision of risking our lives in an unsafe vehicle. Shelly, who has spoken for Every 15 Minutes for ten years at high schools all across CUSD, says “If one of you guys doesn’t do it that night and it potentially saves your life, then it’s worth it for me.”

Watching the carnage of people we had grown to love for years lying mangled on the asphalt and gaping at powerful stories of unthinkable real-life tragedies paled in comparison to the heartthrob of writing goodbye letters to our family as our orchestrated deaths edged even closer to reality. Still united in the conference room, the 26 sat in silence for over an hour addressing mothers, fathers, siblings, and friends. Before pen had even touched paper, tears welled and sniffles echoed in the dim room. Prior to this moment, I had expected our role-play as victims to be a lens for the mass of upperclassmen the program was staged for, but the core group really absorbed so much more than any of the others behind the scenes than in costume. The blood was fake, but the tears were very real.

Before retiring to our rooms for the night, the group circled once again in reflection over the day’s emotionally inflating events. Tissues were passed around again and again as several participants opened up about their newly realized epiphanies, most notably Ester Ocampo–prom night fatality who was thrown out of her passenger seat onto the hood of her car. Ocampo confessed that when she was lying still on the hood she thought of how if she moved she would ruin everything for the scene, but how in real life she can and must do so for her family and everyone who loves her.

The following morning, all 26 victims were reunited with at least one family member exchanging letters, hugs, and relief that everything was only a simulation.