Pitman High School senior Armani Bustos’ plans to graduate from high school were cut short Thursday when she decided to get behind the wheel of a car after drinking, killing three of her classmates and being incarcerated.
Luckily for Bustos, his actions and their consequences were part of Every 15 Minutes; a two-day program that shows high school students the real ramifications of drunk driving. The program returned after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.
“We could enforce laws all day, but our job is to educate young people so that we don’t have to enforce those laws,” said CHP officer Thomas Olsen. “In my opinion, this is one of the best programs sponsored by the HPC. Getting a DUI is a decision and we try to get into these schools and empower them to be leaders in their communities.
Stanislaus County investigated 76 fatal collisions last year, according to Olsen, while the previous year it investigated 45. New to the program is that they now incorporate the dangers of impaired driving. impaired, such as the use of marijuana and prescription drugs, as well as the consumption of alcohol.
When Bustos’ vehicle collided with another full car of his peers in a mock car crash at PHS Thursday morning, three students lost their lives. Paramedics worked frantically to save them as the rest of the school watched, but all three succumbed to their injuries. Nathaniel Piro left as the sole survivor of the accident.
Every aspect of Every 15 Minutes is meant to be realistic for students, from the bloody crash scene to the very real possibility that a drunk driver could rob them of someone they love in the blink of an eye. Students are usually selected based on their influence on campus, and the school tries to select a student from each social niche.
In addition to students who took part in the car crash scene on Thursday, others were removed from their classes by the ‘Grim Reaper’ throughout the day, with one student leaving class every 15 minutes, the average time between each DUI-related death across the country.
Every student who “dies” in the program is part of an overnight informational seminar that teaches them about the dangers of drunk driving. Students also learn about distracted driving and, in particular, the devastating effects that can result from texting while driving. Bustos, the drunk driver, spent the night in jail.
During this time, the students do not have a phone and cannot communicate with friends or family, the latter being informed of their child’s death by a visit from the California Highway Patrol.
“It was a very emotional and crazy time,” said Alyssa Evans, who spent the night away from her family. “Seeing all my friends like this is surreal, it really makes you think about the consequences.”
At Friday’s funeral for the victims of the car crash and other students who died on Thursday, the victims and their parents read letters to each other, speaking words they would say if the unspeakable had never happened.
“It’s very surreal, they’ve been gone all day and it’s very impactful,” said Cliff Lewis, whose son was one of the students taken out of the class. “The message I think they got is that your actions affect everything because you need to be responsible and safe.”
The students were moved by the testimonies of the family members and left with a strong message.
“What attracted me was seeing the families,” senior Giselle Miranda said. “It was really eye-opening to see that this could really happen; especially to your close friends.
“People have to think responsibly and think of others,” said Mesmin Reynoso. “You have to think about how your family is going to react and what you’re going to put them through.”
Funding for this program was provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Administration.