It is 9:30 on a Thursday morning and nearly 900 juniors and seniors of Faith Lutheran High School are called from their classrooms and instructed to take a seat in the bleachers that have been temporarily placed curbside along the street outside the school.
In front of the bleachers, an all too real looking and somewhat gruesome, automobile accident has been staged.
A white four door automobile with a heavily damaged front end has apparently rammed into the back of a red pickup truck a few feet away. The bloody body of a teenage boy lies motionless on the street in front of the stands. He had been driving the red pickup and without wearing a seatbelt was ejected from the truck when it was hit. The passenger of the pickup was also not wearing his seatbelt and upon impact, hit his head against the windshield and is now semi-conscious and trapped in the crumpled cab of the truck with serious head injuries to his head and body.
The passenger of the white vehicle is badly injured, unable to move and crying out in pain. The young female driver of the white vehicle has suffered a few cuts and bruises, is conscious but dazed by the event.
The scene is very realistic and brilliantly staged by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s “Every 15 Minutes” program. The program’s name was derived from the fact that in the early 1990s, every fifteen minutes, someone in the United States died in an alcohol-related traffic collision.
According to Detective Kenny Salisbury of the LVMPD, Fatal Detail, there are over 220 fatal accidents in Clark County each year. Of those accidents, 33 percent of the drivers are of high school age, and 40 percent of those accidents involve alcohol.
“In the last five years, I have witnessed the death of 400 students,” Salisbury told the audience.
From speaker system placed behind the viewing stands, the first words that the students heard, was the panicked and screaming voice of a teenage girl calling 911. The recording was that of an actual 911 call from an accident that happened last year near Bishop Gorman High School.
The dispatcher responded by telling her that help was on the way and subsequently summoned the police, fire, and paramedic teams to the scene of the accident. Complete with lights and sirens, motorcycle officers, Clark County fire and rescue vehicles, and Medic West Ambulance arrived on the scene and immediately went to work assessing the situation.
Students watched as the first responders assessed the scene and began moving among the injured. Front and center police and then paramedics searched for a pulse of the driver who had been thrown from the pickup, not finding one they pronounced him dead at the scene and respectfully covered his body with a white sheet.
Simultaneously, the fire department worked with the “Jaws of Life” to cut the injured passenger from the pickup truck while paramedics approached the passenger side of the white car to assess her injuries.
When Police officers opened the driver’s door of the white vehicle, beer bottles feel to their feet, and they could see that the young driver, though only slightly injured with a few cuts and bruises, was not very coherent. At the age of 15, she was drinking and driving without a license and could not pass the sobriety test. The police placed her under arrest, handcuffed her, and drove her to jail in the back of a police squad car.
Overhead, came the sound of a helicopter as Mercy Air flew onto the scene and landed in the middle of the street. The fire department had successfully cut away the top of the pickup truck and removed the door, allowing paramedics to remove the injured passenger from the pickup, place him on a stretcher and then into the helicopter which rushed him to the hospital.
The passenger of the white vehicle was taken to the hospital in an ambulance
At the end of the demonstration, it was reported that the passenger of the pickup had died at the hospital.
Detective Salisbury carried a microphone to the middle of the scene and solemnly read the obituaries of the two fellow students who had passed away.
However, this was not the end of the event. As the students filed back into their classrooms, camera crews followed the student actors (known as the “walking dead”) and their parents to record the drama that was continuing to unfold.
The drunk driver was taken to the booking facility where she was fingerprinted; blood was drawn to check the alcohol content and then sent to court where her parents would watch as she appeared before a judge and sentenced to time in prison.
The two injured actors would go through simulated treatment at the hospital while their parents sat in the waiting room, not knowing if their children would survive. The two students that were pronounced dead would be taken to the morgue where the coroner will place toe tags, and ask the parents to identify the bodies.
At the end of a very emotional day, law enforcement personnel with the assistance of community member chaperones took the students to a local hotel for an overnight Student Retreat. By this time, the students will have been out of communication with their parents and friends since the day started, giving the program more of reality.
At the Student Retreat, the students participated in team building activities. They also heard from impact speakers who related firsthand stories about how their lives have changed from losing a loved one to a drunk driver.
According to Detective Salisbury, “the devastating effects of each person that is killed by a drunk driver constitutes a lifelong sentence that the family and friends must endure without their loved one.” The evening of the Student Retreat will end with some very emotional exercises where each student will be asked to write a goodbye letter to a loved one.
The parents of the participating students will also attend a Parent Retreat. This debriefing allows the parents to come together and share with each other, their experiences of receiving death notifications. Additionally, the parents of the DUI crash students can share their emotions after seeing their child in a serious car crash situation. The parents, remembering that they have not spoken to their child since they left for school and, having since received a death notification, will also participate in writing a goodbye letter to their child.
Day Two of the project.
The next morning, all of the juniors, seniors, parents, school staff, sponsors, volunteers, officers, emergency personnel, and guests were assembled in the school gymnasium. Even with school championship banners lining the walls, this normally cheerful sports venue was amazingly silent as the students focused their attention on posters that displayed accident scenes.
After everyone is seated, the sound of a bagpipe playing “Amazing Grace” is heard as a kilted police officer enters the gym leading a procession of student pallbearers on each side of a mahogany casket followed by mourners. As the casket is positioned front and center, the mourners file past, each laying a flower in the casket.
Projected onto a screen above, begins a video. The upbeat music shows the vibrant lives of the students who had died in the crash, their childhood photos, and accomplishments in school, cheerleading, sports, and theater performances.
Suddenly the music changes and the video transitions to scenes from the prior day’s accident. The music stops, and the frantic 911 call is heard. The entire prior day’s event once again unfolds, but this time the camera brings the audience up close, and the injuries of the accident victims are all too real looking. The video, in the form of a news report, showed students what happens when an accident victim arrives at the University Medical Center trauma, the morgue, Clark County Detention Center, and the Regional Justice Center. And even though the parents know that their child is not actually dead, seeing their son for the first time as the blue body bag is unzipped and his bloody body reviled, is still shocking and true emotion overcomes them.
By this time, looking around the gym, I saw many of the students are wiping the tears from their eyes. I watch as one of the mourners seated up front, reach for a box of tissues to hand to the young lady next to him as he nervously tries to soothe her emotions by rubbing her leg and holding her hand.
At the end of the video, Dr. Jim Preddy of the UMC Trauma Center walked to the microphone. Preddy told the audience that 23 years ago while driving home from work, he witnessed a head-on collision and stopped to lend what assistance he could. It was that incident that inspired him to become a physician.
With a clicker in hand, Preddy gave descriptions of slide after slide. First, a view of the bloody ER room floor after an event. Then, a series of x-rays including the head trauma of a driver that was ejected from his car because he was not wearing a seatbelt; the teenage girl who was riding with her drunk boyfriend, without a seatbelt and her entire body was ejected from the vehicle—except for her arm. One of the most dramatic is the description of the x-ray of a young teenage girl who is partially thrown out of a vehicle and internally decapitated where the spinal cord is completely snapped from her neck.
Preddy gives the audience some very sobering facts.
- One-third of drinking and driving accidents involve teens between the age of 16 and 20.
- Thirty-one percent of all automobile fatalities involve drinking and driving.
After Preddy’s dramatic presentation, Detective Salisbury once again stepped to the microphone. “I would like to introduce…,” Salisbury started to say when suddenly his voice cracked and he paused to try to gather his composure. “I would like to introduce,” he continued, clearing his throat, “one of the strongest women that I know—Joan Eddowes.”
Eddowes 17-year-old son Mark, was killed on Memorial Day Weekend, May 24, 1991. Mark’s work had called to offer him an extra shift that day, which he took to earn some extra money for a date with his girlfriend. After riding the city bus from work to a stop near the entrance to his subdivision, Mark was hit by a drunk driver while walking home. His body so badly injured that it was impossible to have an open casket funeral. Eddowes’s tearful heart-wrenching story moved nearly everyone in the gymnasium.
Following Eddowes, one of the walking dead students read a letter that she had written to her fellow students, urging them to think about what they had seen and to remember the pain that is caused by one careless act. A second letter, written by the parents of a walking dead student, was emotionally read as if it were real, and perhaps to them, it was, where they talked about how much they loved and missed their child and how life would not be the same without him.
Faith Lutheran High School has a Mission Statement, “Everyone Prepared! Everyone Saved!” While the description of this two-day event and accompanying photos cannot come close to the powerful message that was delivered through this program, I hope that this article will at least cause the readers to at least think.
Think about drinking and driving. Think about wearing your seatbelts. Think about calling someone for a ride home rather than getting into the car with a drunk driver.
The Clark County Metropolitan Police Department stages about four of these dramatic learning events each year. The officers, fire department personnel, paramedics, and everyone else involved at the hospital, court, and coroner’s office either volunteer their time or work the shift as part of their regular duty. In a community effort to promote safety and save lives, there are approximately 50 sponsors of the “Every 15 Minutes” program, and despite the amount of time and logistics involved, the total out of pocket cost of this exercise is only around $5,000—but the impact is priceless.
For more information about the “Every 15 Minutes” program, contact officer Justin White at firstname.lastname@example.org.