Driving school

Every 15 Minutes warns teens against drunk driving | Community

For all but 19 of the 1,600 students at Rancho Cotate High School, last Thursday would have seemed like a normal day. Students went to class, unlikely to notice the 19 empty desks belonging to students crossing different cultural and socioeconomic cliques and backgrounds.

That is until police accompanied by chaplains and the Grim Reaper arrived in classrooms to read death notices for absent students as part of the anti-drunk driving campaign, Every Fifteen Minutes, conducted statewide by the California Highway Patrol.

While 15 of the selected students were on a retreat at Occidental with event organizers, writing farewell letters to their parents, according to Lt. Jeff Nicks of the Rohnert Park Police Department, who is a longtime local organizer. date of the event, four others were on the football field.

After a 9-1-1 call about a DUI crash played over the high school PA system, students flocked to the football field and packed the stadium, which hosted a dramatic crash and set stage.

On the ground, the staged accident revealed the four students, with two wrecked cars and a pedestrian struck. Isaac Martinez starred as the drunk driver, who ran a red light and hit a pedestrian, Marley Castner, before hitting another car driven by Skylar Hendry. Cameron Duran played a passenger in Martinez’s car, who was injured.

Emergency personnel, including police, firefighters and paramedics, treated the scene as a real accident, using the jaws of life to extract passengers from crashed cars and treat the “injured”. While Martinez was arrested and transported to Sonoma County Jail, Castner was airlifted by CHP helicopter where and taken to Kaiser Hospital in Santa Rosa alongside Duran, who was transported by ambulance. Hendry, who was pronounced dead at the scene, was taken away by the Sonoma County coroner.

Cameras tracked the four students: Martinez dressed in jail clothes and being sent before a real judge in Sonoma County Superior Court to be sentenced; Hendry and Duran were at the center of an emergency treatment scene at Kaiser; and Castner was laid on a slab in the morgue so her parents could identify her. Nicks said the scenes were emotional and dynamic.

The event, held every four years so that everyone who attends Rancho Cotate High School will experience it once, is part of a statewide initiative to educate students about the dangers of drunk driving. The event culminated on Friday with an assembly, set up with a coffin to mimic the funeral of the student playing the role of the deceased. Pictures taken the day before are shown and selected letters from the other 15 students sent to retreat are read in front of the whole school.

Skylar Hendry’s father, speaking at the meeting, said: “I am happy to be able to share this letter which I wrote after learning of Skylar’s death yesterday. I will try to get out of this without breaking down. All future memories were stolen by a selfish decision. I’ll never walk you down the aisle. All the potential you had has been snuffed out.

To whispers and laughter, the father said, “Isaac did this to you. Why Isaac? Why so stupid? There’s no justification I’ll accept, especially anything that starts with “I didn’t think of that”. Everyone knows that “stupid” starts there.

Although Rohnert Park doesn’t deal with many student impaired driving cases, Nicks said the event, which the high school first held in 2001, is a chance to get the message out to students, hoping they’ll remember it as they get older. Nicks lamented that while cellphones have made it easier to call a friend for a ride or use a rideshare service, DUIs are increasing in Sonoma County.

“I am posted to the patrol division and oversee patrol operations and it appears that impaired driving arrests are on the rise. I wish we never had a program like this, but with people still drinking and driving and using drugs and driving and vaping and driving, we need it,” he said. .

Nicks said the students who participated were hand-picked by administrators as influential students in various segments of the student population. The hope is that those who have gone on the retreat or participated in the dramatization share their experiences with their social groups, and that students bring up the topic of drunk driving with their families at the dinner table.

“Now these 19 kids are working together, whether they know it or not, with the other 1,580 kids in high school to send a message. If we impact one person not to make that choice, we win,” said Nicks said.

Every fifteen minutes takes a group of about 15 organizers, including public safety officers, educators and community members, a full year to plan. It costs about $10,000, with $9,000 coming from a CHP grant and the rest funded by fundraising.

Nicks thanked the many members of the community who helped bring the event to life, including Kaiser Hospital Santa Rosa, the Sheriff’s Office, the Coroner, members of the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District and Sonoma Life Support, a local ambulance service.

“We all work together on a daily basis. Everyone goes up. They know the needs and are doing a great job for the children in the school,” he said.

He also praised Vice-Principal Angie Scardina for her help with the event, as well as the children who participated, who he said had to keep their roles a secret for several months leading up to this one.