Students learn about dangers of driving intoxicated

cwinterfeldt@mercedsunstar.comApril 3, 2014 

The lifeless body of Cassandra Casanova, a senior at Le Grand High, lay facedown across the hood of a blood-stained minivan.

“Our ASB vice president was taken from us,” read Le Grand High School’s Superintendent Donna Alley, from an obituary.

The death of a talented and beloved student who was ready to graduate and go off to college is a tragedy that affects any community. Thankfully, the blood on Casanova’s clothes wasn’t real, and her “death” was only meant to drive home an important message.

Casanova on Thursday played the part of a victim in a simulated DUI-related collision and mock death, as part of the two-day Every 15 Minutes program at Le Grand High.

Student Activities Director-Adviser Gia Priddel has organized the event every two years since 2002. Priddel said if the program can save one student’s life, it’s worth the time. “I hope it makes an impact where they think twice about getting behind the wheel of a car, or allowing one of their friends to drive,” Priddel said.

The simulation was particularly timely, as the school’s prom is scheduled for Saturday in Clovis. “Hopefully, it’s fresh in their minds, what just took place,” Priddel said.

The program started early Thursday with five students being removed from class, to represent those who die every 15 minutes in the United States because of alcohol-related crashes. Obituaries of the students were read aloud in class. The students then painted their faces to represent their deaths and stood behind the scene of the staged DUI accident on the school’s soccer field. Meanwhile, a person dressed as the Grim Reaper stood nearby, observing the scene.

Up to 25 students were removed from class every 15 minutes, throughout the rest of the day.

Senior Angel Ultreras played the part of a drunken driver at the scene of an accident. About 250 junior and senior students sat in bleachers and watched as Ultreras was questioned by a California Highway Patrol officer and given a sobriety test. Firemen and paramedics were on the scene using the Jaws of Life to cut Casanova from the wreckage.

The mock scenario continued with Casanova being put in a body bag and placed in a hearse, followed by the reading of her obituary. Students were told there would be a mock funeral the next day. As part of the mock scenarios, parents of the children who participated will also receive notification of their child’s death. A mock sentencing was carried out for the student who played the part of a drunken driver. Students will see a video today of the entire ordeal during a mock funeral for Casanova.

Junior Jose Gonzalez said it was heartbreaking to think of an innocent friend being killed by a drunken driver. “There was emotion. I wouldn’t say tears, but my heart was shook up a little bit. It was painful,” Gonzalez explained. “I think it made an impact on everyone. Everyone is going to think about it next time they go drunk-driving or partying. This is a ripple effect. It’s going to pass by everyone.”

Marissa Belmontes, a senior and one of the first students who was taken from class and had her face painted, said she had a hard time seeing her friend Casanova dead on the ground. She also thought it would make students think before making a bad decision, although that might not be enough. “I’m pretty sure it will impact them, but probably not as much as I want them to be impacted,” Belmontes said.

CHP Officer Moises Onsurez, who helped organize the event with Priddel, said the Office of Traffic Safety provides grant money in excess of $10,000 to the CHP to put on the event. He said it was started in 1995 by the Chico Police Department.

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