'Every 15 Minutes' Packs Powerful Impact

By: 
Laurie Hanson

Students experience death without dying in the “Every 15 Minutes” event recently at Los Alamitos High School (LAHS). With life-like lessons, they learn the consequences of drunk and distracted driving in a community-wide effort through The Youth Center’s bi-annual event and the local community.

Their day began on Jan. 31, with students being pulled from their classes as part of the “living dead,” while their classmates hear their obituaries, and see their empty desks with only a photo and rose in their place.

Students witness the crash scene with Orange County Fire Department, California Highway Patrol (CHP), Los Alamitos and Seal Beach Police onsite. Heavy rains and thunder do not stop students from witnessing the accident scene. Ambulances and Forest Lawn hearses standby as fire personnel extricate casualties. The remaining victims standby, helplessly watching their friends and waiting to see the outcome before being taken away from campus to an undisclosed location for 24 hours. There they write goodbye letters to their parents, as their parents write their farewells at another location. They do not see each other until gathering at a school-wide assembly the next morning at the LAHS Gym.

Student Danny Bird, the drunk driver, was arrested, taken to jail, and then appeared in Orange County Municipal Court before a judge. Parents gather for the proceedings, hoping the judge will grant leniency due to the defendant’s young age and him having killed his best friend passengers. For a time, accused drivers remain in a holding tank, isolated and away from family. It’s their first real taste of life behind bars.

“I never want to put my parents through this experience”, shared Los Alamitos High School student Danny Bird, who was the drunk driver. “It’s definitely puts things into prospective and makes you think twice before making this choice [to drive intoxicated or not].”

On the other side of town, personnel at Los Alamitos Medical Center’s emergency room work feverishly to save two other LAHS students Amber DeMarco and Anika Piburn, victims of this senseless tragedy.  Later that day, funeral arrangements carried out for the 27 victims by Forest Lawn Mortuary in Cypress, where family and classmates gather to say their last goodbyes. Many can be heard outwardly weeping because their loved ones are no longer with us.

Day passes into night, and night into the next day where the entire LAHS student body gathers for an assembly in the high school gym, watching a powerful film of the entire day proceeding. Joshua Jahn, a speaker at the assembly, shared the story about losing his wife, young son, and an 11-months old baby girl to a drunk driver who hit his wife’s car. Jahn shares his story with students around the world in hopes that it will save lives. He asked the students to think of his family when they are faced with the choice of driving intoxicated or not. Not a dry eye in the entire place remained.

The power of experiencing the consequences of driving under the influence or distracted driving hits like a ton of bricks by the end of the “Every 15 Minutes” event on the second day. The event is named “Every 15 Minutes” from a statistic that every 15 minutes someone is killed by drunk drivers in the United States. And, it’s a lesson not likely forgotten by the 3,600 students at LAHS.

‘We cannot bring this program to our community alone”, shared Youth Center Executive Director Lina Lumme. “Los Alamitos Police Department, Seal Beach Lions, and Los Alamitos High School planned this two-day program for the entire year. To help us bring the reality to students, more than 27 community partners joined in to bring this powerful life-changing experience to local students.”

This program is mainly funded by the CHP and The Youth Center with a big help from Lion’s Club and Los Alamitos High School, said Lumme.

Submitted by The Youth Center

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